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Illicit, Offshore, Shadow, Invisible

In The LARB Quarterly Issue no. 38, EARTH, I wrote about financial thrillers and how you get people to care about tax loopholes and secret money flowing to island nations across the world and permanent trusts in South Dakota.

"Butler’s account of the men and women whose actions created and consolidated the current system is itself exceedingly British, devastating in its wry understatement. “There is a saying,” Bullough writes in his account of “low white tax morale” in the colonies, “that if you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, and that is how many Europeans responded to the changes sweeping across Africa and Asia.” The story of England’s transformation into a financial butler is also the story of the postcolonial world slipping away from the promise of self-governance and democracy, bit by bit, as the sticky fingers of financiers reached around the globe.

Bullough sometimes puts his sense of humor to work running bus tours in London. Modeled on the star tours that gawk at actors in Hollywood, his tours map the web of fancy homes that reporters have identified as belonging to kleptocrats. These mansions, which stud London’s posh neighborhoods, usually sit empty, driving up prices by parking illicit financial flows in shell-company-owned, money-laundering properties. In February, Bullough told me in an email that they had another tour coming up, but he seemed fatalistic about it. He said it would only highlight 'the failure to do much about oligarchs.' He warned me of another wave of EB-5 visas about to hit Los Angeles. The program is another source of dark money, and he warned of serious issues. A group of investors who used the EB-5 visa program is already in court with unpaid contractors on a mega-development, now sitting stalled, in Downtown L.A."


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