Is the UK helping Russia win the gold medal for corruption?
Whatever plans Mr Putin had for the Sochi Olympics, it is unlikely he had wanted a PR disaster. Yet the combination of
terrorism, homophobic laws and corruption has brought nothing but negative headlines over the past few weeks.
In relation to corruption, Russia has already won the gold medal – and is probably the all-time winner. I will not rehearse
here the endless litany of allegations – they are well captured elsewhere, including on the website of the perennial thorn in
parliament about this earlier this week.
Here are three things of great concern:
1. The sheer shamelessness. Corruption on this scale is breath-taking, but not unusual in Russia. Its huge natural resources
provide splendid opportunities for plunder. The fact that it has been permitted at the Sochi Olympics, when it is obvious that
the eyes of the world would be watching, is the concern. Russia’s corruption problem is the world’s problem, because
Russia, with a UN veto, G8 membership and lots of money, is an influential player in the world. Yet it ranks as number 127
out of 177 on the Corruption Perceptions Index, a shamefully poor performance for a G8 country. Despite this, Russia is part
of a body of countries that we turn to in order to help create, enforce and safeguard international laws on corruption. Sochi
demonstrates that the Russian government is not merely out of line with that international endeavour, but willing to flaunt
its values to the contrary.
2. How long courage can endure. Perhaps the most unintentionally laugh out-loud funny remark on corruption at Sochi was
Mr Putin’s statement ‘”If anybody has got this information, please show this to us. But so far we haven’t seen anything
except speculation.” Well, Mr Putin, might that have anything to do with the fact that journalists who speak out against your
regime are murdered, and that you have passed laws to close down independent NGOs like Transparency International? Not
to mention the fact that evidence has previously been presented but ignored. The citizens of Russia have shown immense
courage in the face of the corruption that blights their daily lives and the long-term development of their country. But the
corrupt have a huge stake in keeping themselves in power whatever the cost to the citizens they were ‘elected’ to serve.
Russian courage is legendary and Russia’s dissidents are respected the world over; but I wonder how long they can endure
in the face of their government’s onslaught.
3. The complicity of the UK. How much of Sochi’s $51 billion budget was misappropriated by corruption? We will probably
never know, but let us assume it was half – that is to say $25 billion – remembering that the original budget was $12 billion.
Certainly enough to be recognisable when flowing through the global financial system. How much of this has found its way
to the UK or its overseas territories? Of course, we do not know. Transparency International’s recent paper Closing Down
the Safe Havens explains why we don’t know. What we do know is that London is the favoured destination of so many
wealthy Russians, and that Britain’s offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands continue to make it very easy to
hide corrupt money. I wonder how many banks, law firms and accountants in the City have a list of those involved in the
Sochi Olympics and rigorously check the origin of their funds?
A final thought is this. The Olympic Games are meant to embody the Olympic Spirit. However spectacular the sporting
endeavours we see at Sochi, they will not erase the stain on the Olympic movement that has been left by corruption at
Sochi. In a perfect world, the International Olympic Committee would be willing to say so.
About Robert Barrington
Robert is the Executive Director of TI-UK. Robert is responsible for ensuring that corruption stays at the forefront of the
national agenda in the UK, and promoting the highest standards of integrity for UK-based organisations operating overseas.