In This Review

The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management: On the International Campaign Against Grand Corruption
The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management: On the International Campaign Against Grand Corruption
By J.C. Sharman
Cornell University Press, 2017, 274 pp

Forty years ago, the U.S. Congress made it illegal for Americans to bribe foreign officials. It took decades, but the rest of the world’s rich countries eventually followed suit and instituted similar laws. More recently, many countries began to establish a legal basis for recovering illegally acquired assets in their jurisdictions and returning them to the countries from which they were stolen, usually placing conditions on their use. This informative book documents the sparse success of such recovery schemes, with special emphasis on the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Australia, listed roughly in order of how much they’ve accomplished. Sharman also discusses several celebrated attempts to get back money stolen by some of the world’s biggest kleptocrats, including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya. In the author’s view, the overall track record of recovery has been poor, partly because of weaknesses in the laws. However, the more pernicious problem, he notes, is lax enforcement of the rules that govern the gatekeepers who make it possible for kleptocrats to squirrel away illegally acquired assets: banks, of course, but also lawyers, brokers, and real estate firms.