A new report from a British non-government corporate watchdog has exposed how British banks have accepted millions of dollars in bribes from corrupt Nigerian politicians. The report called “International Thief Thief: How British Banks are complicit in Nigerian corruption”(PDF) has exposed rotten practices in the banking industry. Global Witness named five major banks Barclays, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Switzerland's UBS in the 40-page report it said have failed to adequately investigate the source of tens of millions of dollars taken from two Nigerian governors accused of corruption.
Robert Palmer, a campaigner at Global Witness said banks were are quick to penalise ordinary customers for minor infractions but seem to be less concerned about dirty money passing through their accounts. "Large scale corruption is simply not possible without a bank willing to process payments from dodgy sources, or hold accounts for corrupt politicians,” he said.
Global Witness admitted the five banks might not have broken the law but said British banking regulator the Financial Services Authority must do more to close loopholes to prevent money laundering through British banks. "The FSA needs to do much more to prevent banks from facilitating corruption,” the report said. “As yet, no British bank has been publicly fined or even named by the regulators for taking corrupt funds, whether willingly or through negligence... in stark contrast to the United States, where banks have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for handling dirty money." While HSBC claimed it had "rigorous and robust" measures in place to stop such abuses, a spokesman refused to talk about individual customers hiding behind the bank's confidentiality policies.
Global Witness’s findings were based on court documents from successful cases the Nigerian government brought in London against two former state governors Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa state and Joshua Dariye of Plateau state. Alamieyeseigha was jailed in Nigeria after pleading guilty to embezzlement and money laundering charges after being caught with $1.6m in cash at his London home. Dariye was arrested in 2004 in London after buying properties worth millions of dollars though he was on $63,500 a year salary.
Global Witness found that Barclays, HSBC, RBS, NatWest and UBS held accounts for both men. They said they “funnelled dirty money into the UK, spending their ill-gotten gains on sustaining a luxury lifestyle, in stark contrast to the poverty of ordinary Nigerians.” Global Witness said banks which were propped up by taxpayer’s money were getting away with practices that undermine aid programs. “This is not just illogical, it is immoral,” they said. “Our financial system is morally complicit in Nigerian corruption.” The banks have form: nearly all of them had previously fallen foul of the FSA in 2001 by reportedly helping the former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha funnel nearly a billion pounds through the UK.
Nigeria ranks 130 out of 180 nations in Transparency International's list of countries perceived as most transparent in 2009. It has a population of 150 million people many of whom survive on $2 a day yet the country is one of the world's top champagne importers and its wealthiest residents are among the continent's richest. Al Jazeera quoted Nuhu Ribadu, the former head of Nigeria's anti-corruption agency who estimated that corruption and mismanagement swallows up about 40 per cent of the country's annual oil income. "Without access to the international financial system, it would be much harder for corrupt politicians from the developing world to loot their treasuries or accept bribes," Global Witness said in its report.