Shady Folks and How to Spot Them

After years of writing about kleptocracy, black markets, and transnational illicit flows of goods or money, I’m putting resources I’ve come across in one place, in the hopes that I can keep track of them, and that they might benefit others as well. You’ll find a lot of kleptocrats klepping hard on these lists. But they’re not the only ones here; entire networks of transnational organized crime, mafia, and black and grey markets spring up in the wake of corrupt leadership, or they support kleptocrats, or sometimes they provide an alternative to legitimate but inaccessible markets, and those shadow institutions are covered as well.

All project titles are in alphabetical order, and all books are ordered alphabetically by author. I’m trying to keep these resources publicly available, and not journal articles behind a paywall, though I may add a page for the academic literature later. There is a focus on Russian and Eurasian crime, as that is my area of specialty, though some of the things in here are more general and will have reports and investigations in other global regions as well.

The Azerbaijani Laundromat

If rankings still hold, Azerbaijan is the second most corrupt nation in the world. It’s a really opportune place to be corrupt; geographically, it’s got Russia to the north with all those handy ex-Soviet connections, and Iran to the south. To the east lies the Caspian Sea and the Shah Deniz gas field under it, meaning the country struck the natural resources jackpot. Like most places that win that lottery, or a lot of trailer park denizens who hit the jackpot, Dutch disease and general loss of fortune looms ahead if people aren’t wise to investing extremely well. (I definitely recommend looking up SOFAZ and SOCAR if you want to learn more about how oil wealth is used and managed by the Azeri government.) The country’s ruling family, the Aliyevs, have been elected repeatedly since 1993, which is definitely and totally not weird in any way.

Foreign Policy’s Fragile States Index 2016

This isn’t restricted to just shady business, but you best believe that many fragile states had corrupt governance help weaken them, and that the buzzards are circling overhead to pick the bones and buy off whatever’s left at a steal. Sometimes you can find the predators by looking at who they make into prey, and who they exploit afterwards.

Global Financial Integrity

This is a think tank that publishes reports on illicit transnational financial flows. These reports are lengthy and contain policy recommendations for curtailing illicit movement of funds.

Havocscope

This site maintains lists on the going price of black market products and services, according to public data sources (mostly news articles). It can be a little sparse at times, but it’s a good place to start if you need to ballpark the value on trafficked weapons, counterfeit electronics, or a hit on someone.

Kleptocracy Initiative (by the policy think tank Hudson Institute) and its Archive Project of various people associated with kleptocrats and kleptocratic behavior

The day this site went live, I threw my hands up in the air, because if this had been available when I started writing about kleptocracy, my life would have been so much easier. It’s really hard to uncover information about things that are, by their nature, meant to not leave paper trails and generally be secret! (Don’t be like me, write about topics that actually have things you can cite, please love yourself.)

The Kleptocracy Initiative is an investigative effort mostly kicked off by Karen Dawisha’s book Putin’s Kleptocracy. It’s an excellent source, but it’s also a really great collection of illustrations of the dangers of kleptocracy. When thieves run the state, they take resources for themselves, scooping the guts out of institutions that support society from within. Those institutions hold up society, allowing people to depend on food security, physical security, environmental protection, property rights, health care, consistent monetary value, fair markets, disaster relief, and a million other things that people have trouble accessing as individuals. When those institutions have their funding redirected to officials’ pockets and the pockets of their friends, and when the policies supporting them are withdrawn, people suffer. It also creates giant holes in national security, for whom that is top priority.

Transparency International

This is where you’re going to go for basic empirical metrics and reported data like the Corruption Perception Index or the Anti-Corruption Glossary. They sort their reports on corruption by industry/sector and by country, and keep up with the news.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

This is another good site for terms and definitions, empirical data, reports, and UN conventions against organized crime.

World Bank

The World Bank is a little more tricky to navigate since they divide up their reporting on illicit behavior. Here is their page on illicit financial flows, though, and this section will get updated next time I’m looking at information from them.

 

Books.

Dawisha, Karen. Putin’s Kleptocracy.
Gilman, Nils, et al (eds.). Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century
Ledeneva, Alena. How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business
Nordstrom, Carolyn. Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World.
Paoli, Letizia (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Organized Crime.
Volkov, Vadim. Violent Entrepreneurs: The Use of Force in the Making of Russian Capitalism.

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