I’m a bit wary of wading into this topic, as I am something of a dunce when it comes to working out political affiliations and machinations – even after watching a gazillion series of “The West Wing”, I’m still not sure who were the goodies, the genuine goodies, the baddies, the ersatz baddies, and the office cleaners (and the office “cleaners”). But I have noticed in recent months a tendency for accusations of money laundering to be used in the political environment, as a method of making life awkward for someone and getting them out of the way for a while. As I say, I’m not always convinced that I know what’s really going on in the political arena (who does?), but I am fairly sure that money laundering is not it – or at least, not the heart of it.
Last week, for instance, prosecutors in Nicaragua charged journalist Cristiana Chamorro with money laundering. Cristiana is the daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro – and has indicated that she will run against current president Daniel Ortega in November. In late May, police raided the offices of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy and the offices of the independent news outlet run by Cristiana’s brother Carlos Fernando Chamorro. And now the Nicaraguan government has said that Chamorro is under investigation for alleged financial irregularities and money laundering related to the foundation; she contends that the accusations are Ortega’s attempt to keep her out of the presidential race.
Journalists are of course frequent targets for regimes that do not value openness and transparency. In December 2020 Ugandan journalist Nicholas Opio was arrested and charged with money laundering and has been held in prison since then. It is suspected by many that the charges are politically motivated – to get Opio out of the way – because of his support for opposition leader and presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine. Friends say that at the time of his arrest, Opio was working on collecting evidence surrounding fifty-six killings and multiple arrests that occurred after protests in November 2020 sparked by the arrest of Wine.
Now, as you can imagine, this annoys me. Money laundering is a serious and destructive crime, and devaluing it like this – bandying around accusations with no foundation beyond “it’s a handy way to hobble this person who, like everyone, uses money” – is infuriating for those of us dedicated to preventing and punishing real money laundering. Remember the frustration attending Operation Yewtree (a UK police investigation into sexual abuse of children by celebrities and others), when people worried that having high-profile accusations which did not lead to a conviction would result in future reports of abuse being taken less seriously? Enormous damage can be done to real investigations into real crimes if politically-motivated pressure is brought to bear on the prosecutorial authorities. It’s another – as if we needed another – dangerous outcome of corruption, and we must resist it with every ounce of our strength. Here endeth the rant.