Recent anti-terrorist legislation in the US and the UK allows government agencies to regularly supervise and inspect businesses that are suspected of being a front for the ''Hawala'' banking system, makes it a crime to smuggle more than $10,000 in cash across USA borders, and empowers the Treasury secretary (and its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network - FinCEN) to tighten record-keeping and reporting rules for banks and financial institutions based in the USA. A new inter-agency Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center (FTAT) was set up. A 1993 moribund proposed law requiring US-based Halawadar to register and to report suspicious transactions may be revived. These relatively radical measures reflect the belief that the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden uses the Hawala system to raise and move funds across national borders. A Hawaladar in Pakistan (Dihab Shill) was identified as the financier in the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
But the USA is not the only country to face terrorism financed by Hawala networks.
A few months ago, the Delhi police, the Indian government's Enforcement Directorate (ED), and the Military Intelligence (MI) arrested six Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) terrorists. The arrests led to the exposure of an enormous web of Hawala institutions in Delhi, aided and abetted, some say, by the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan's security services). The Hawala network was used to funnel money to terrorist groups in the disputed Kashmir Valley.
Luckily, the common perception that Hawala financing is paperless is wrong. The transfer of information regarding the funds often leaves digital (though heavily encrypted) trails. Couriers and "contract memorizers", gold dealers, commodity merchants, transporters, and moneylenders can be apprehended and interrogated. Written, physical, letters are still the favourite mode of communication among small and medium Hawaladars, who also invariably resort to extremely detailed single entry bookkeeping. And the sudden appearance and disappearance of funds in bank accounts still have to be explained. Moreover, the sheer scale of the amounts involved entails the collaboration of off shore banks and more established financial institutions in the West. Such flows of funds affect the local money markets in Asia and are instantaneously reflected in interest rates charged to frequent borrowers, such as wholesalers. Spending and consumption patterns change discernibly after such influxes. Most of the money ends up in prime world banks behind flimsy business facades. Hackers in Germany claimed (without providing proof) to have infiltrated Hawala-related bank accounts.
The problem is that banks and financial institutions - and not only in dodgy offshore havens ("black holes" in the lingo) - clam up and refuse to divulge information about their clients. Banking is largely a matter of fragile trust between bank and customer and tight secrecy. Bankers are reluctant to undermine either. Banks use mainframe computers which can rarely be hacked through cyberspace and can be compromised only physically in close co-operation with insiders. The shadier the bank - the more formidable its digital defenses.
The use of numbered accounts (outlawed in Austria, for instance, only recently) and pseudonyms (still possible in Lichtenstein) complicates matters. Bin Laden's accounts are unlikely to bear his name. He has collaborators.
Hawala networks are often used to launder money, or to evade taxes. Even when employed for legitimate purposes, to diversify the risk involved in the transfer of large sums, Hawaladars apply techniques borrowed from money laundering. Deposits are fragmented and wired to hundreds of banks the world over ("starburst"). Sometimes, the money ends up in the account of origin ("boomerang").
Hence the focus on payment clearing and settlement systems. Most countries have only one such system, the repository of data regarding all banking (and most non-banking) transactions in the country. Yet, even this is a partial solution. Most national systems maintain records for 6-12 months, private settlement and clearing systems for even less.
Yet, the crux of the problem is not the Hawala or the Hawaladars. The corrupt and inept governments of Asia are to blame for not regulating their banking systems, for over-regulating everything else, for not fostering competition, for throwing public money at bad debts and at worse borrowers, for over-taxing, for robbing people of their life savings through capital controls, for tearing at the delicate fabric of trust between customer and bank (Pakistan, for instance, froze all foreign exchange accounts two years ago). Perhaps if Asia had reasonably expedient, reasonably priced, reasonably regulated, user-friendly banks - Osama bin Laden would have found it impossible to finance his mischief so invisibly.
The three policemen barked "straf", "straf" in unison. It was a Russianized version of the German word for "fine" and a euphemism for bribe. I and my fiancée were stranded in an empty ally at the heart of Moscow, physically encircled by these young bullies, an ominous propinquity. They held my passport ransom and began to drag me to a police station nearby. We paid.
To do the fashionable thing and to hold the moral high ground is rare. Yet, denouncing corruption and fighting it satisfies both conditions. Such hectoring is usually the preserve of well-heeled bureaucrats, driving utility vehicles and banging away at wireless laptops. The General Manager of the IMF makes 400,000 US dollars a year, tax-free, and perks. This is the equivalent of 2,300 (!) monthly salaries of a civil servant in Macedonia - or 7,000 monthly salaries of a teacher or a doctor in Yugoslavia, Moldova, Belarus, or Albania. He flies only first class and each one of his air tickets is worth the bi-annual income of a Macedonian factory worker. His shareholders - among them poor and developing countries - are forced to cough up these exorbitant fees and to finance the luxurious lifestyle of the likes of Kohler and Wolfensohn. And then they are made to listen to the IMF lecture them on belt tightening and how uncompetitive their economies are due to their expensive labour force. To me, such a double standard is the epitome of corruption. Organizations such as the IMF and World Bank will never be possessed of a shred of moral authority in these parts of the world unless and until they forgo their conspicuous consumption.
Yet, corruption is not a monolithic practice. Nor are its outcomes universally deplorable or damaging. One would do best to adopt a utilitarian and discerning approach to it. The advent of moral relativism has taught us that "right" and "wrong" are flexible, context dependent and culture-sensitive yardsticks.
What amounts to venality in one culture (Slovenia) is considered no more than gregariousness or hospitality in another (Macedonia).
Moreover, corruption is often "imported" by multinationals, foreign investors, and expats. It is introduced by them to all levels of governments, often in order to expedite matters or secure a beneficial outcome. To eradicate corruption, one must tackle both giver and taker.
Thus, we are better off asking "cui bono" than "is it the right thing to do". Phenomenologically, "corruption" is a common - and misleading - label for a group of behaviours. One of the following criteria must apply:
(a) The withholding of a service, information, or goods that, by law, and by right, should have been provided or divulged.
To have a phone installed in Russia one must openly bribe the installer (according to a rather rigid tariff). In many of the former republics of Yugoslavia, it is impossible to obtain statistics or other data (the salaries of senior public officeholders, for instance) without resorting to kickbacks.
(b) The provision of a service, information, or goods that, by law, and by right, should not have been provided or divulged.
Tenders in the Czech Republic are often won through bribery. The botched privatizations all over the former Eastern Bloc constitute a massive transfer of wealth to select members of a nomenklatura. Licences and concessions are often granted in Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkan as means of securing political allegiance or paying off old political "debts".
(c) That the withholding or the provision of said service, information, or goods are in the power of the withholder or the provider to withhold or to provide AND That the withholding or the provision of said service, information, or goods constitute an integral and substantial part of the authority or the function of the withholder or the provider.
The post-communist countries in transition are a dichotomous lot. On the one hand, they are intensely and stiflingly bureaucratic. On the other hand, none of the institutions functions properly or lawfully. While these countries are LEGALISTIC - they are never LAWFUL. This fuzziness allows officials in all ranks to usurp authority, to trade favours, to forge illegal consensus and to dodge criticism and accountability. There is a direct line between lack of transparency and venality. Eran Fraenkel of Search for Common Ground in Macedonia has coined the phrase "ambient corruption" to capture this complex of features.
(d) That the service, information, or goods that are provided or divulged are provided or divulged against a benefit or the promise of a benefit from the recipient and as a result of the receipt of this specific benefit or the promise to receive such benefit.
It is wrong to assume that corruption is necessarily, or even mostly, monetary or pecuniary. Corruption is built on mutual expectations. The reasonable expectation of a future benefit is, in itself, a benefit. Access, influence peddling, property rights, exclusivity, licences, permits, a job, a recommendation - all constitute benefits.
(e) That the service, information, or goods that are withheld are withheld because no benefit was provided or promised by the recipient.
Even then, in CEE, we can distinguish between a few types of corrupt and venal behaviours in accordance with their OUTCOMES (utilities):