City of Thieves

Which island country plays host to the most egregious financial misdeeds? Hint: it’s no beach-blanket paradise. It’s the UK, and London — its crime den of a capital — is at the heart of a globe-spanning system of money laundering, tax evasion and fraud, pumping dirty cash and facilitating dirty dealings around the world.

Forget Switzerland, Luxembourg and Ireland, Hong Kong and Singapore, Delaware and South Dakota, Panama and all the rest. Britain, including its overseas holdings such as the Cayman Islands, is the world’s crowning tax haven. Over two-thirds of the 956 companies named in the Panama Papers and linked to public-office holders were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands — which, as its name suggests, is very much a part of the UK.

But far from the tropical shores of the former empire’s colonial conquests, London itself — the place where the really bad stuff goes down — sits at the center of the spider’s web.

Below the city’s surface of big banks and stock listings, disguised by besuited respectability, lies an underworld of legal laxity and dark money. It’s the place to go when hiding stolen wealth and laundering filthy funds — some say trillions’ worth. It’s a cash-stashing destination for plush playboys and the world’s elite class of powerholders alike. (Really, what’s the difference?) These crooked characters trade on the City of London’s shambles of

a regulatory system, as well as its access to some of the fattest banks and the biggest players in the global financial game — who, let’s just say, don’t always shy away from getting their hands, not to say forearms, soiled.

With all the attention and resources directed at the storied city, why not do something to fix the glaring problem? Because, of course, London must remain “competitive” — that is, attractive to money of all levels of shadiness, foreign or otherwise. City and higher-level officials simply protest too much. As Simon Jenkins writes in The Guardian, “Britain’s denial that it launders money is like Russia’s denial that it poisons spies.”

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