Democracy Now carries an interesting interview with the novelist John Le Carre which is well worth a listen to. Here are some extracts.
JOHN LE CARRÉ: I have a column, yeah. I wish I had the figures in my head. This is from the International Herald Tribune, and I guess that means it also comes from the New York Times of Monday, September the 13th, not so long ago. Barclays, a British bank, paid $298 million "for conducting transactions with Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan in violation of United States trade sanctions. Barclays was discovered to have systematically disguised the movement of hundreds of millions of dollars through wire transfers that were stripped of the critical information required by law.
"Last May, when ABN Amro Bank (now largely part of the Royal Bank of Scotland) was caught funneling money for the benefit of Iran, Libya and Sudan, it was fined $500 million, and no one went to jail. Last December, Credit Suisse Group agreed to pay a $536 million fine for doing the same. In recent years, Union Bank of California, American Express Bank International, BankAtlantic and Wachovia have all been caught moving huge sums of drug money, but no one went to jail. The banks just admitted to criminal conduct and paid the government a cut of their profits."
The thing is, it is very undemocratic, because if you or I go to one of these banks along here somewhere with a few thousand dollars in a briefcase, if I’m a Brit and do it, I have to give a really thorough explanation. Bank manager may call in the police. I have to produce my passport. If I want to open an account, I have to produce a utilities bill and all of that. But, if Mr. Orloff comes to a bank here and says, "I am from Russia. I have millions and millions of dollars, please. And here is a letter from a reputable lawyer in Moscow. And here is evidence that I run hotels, casinos, whatnot," bank manager says, "What are you doing for lunch?" And we’re away. So, the bigger the sum, the easier the crime. Now, that is of course something that afflicts us through life. But it’s the case here.
AMY GOODMAN: And the critics—I know you don’t read reviews, but the critics who say, "Oh, come on. This is so exaggerated. The legitimate economy does not rest on the illegitimate one, the illegal one."
JOHN LE CARRÉ: Well, alas, those critics don’t read their own newspapers, and nor perhaps have they noticed that a former head of MI5, our security service, who was translated to the House of Lords, was recently denied the senior post on a security committee on account of her connections with oligarchs in the Ukraine. These oligarchs were supposedly connected with criminal conspiracy.
We also have a charming case, which we look back on with embarrassment, where a leading member of the Rothschild family and our present Chancellor of the Exchequer—that’s finance minister—and the éminence grise of the Labour Party at that time, Lord Mandelson, were all found holidaying together off the coast of Corfu, sitting on the boat of a man called Deripaska, who at that time, I believe, was wanted in the United States for—on money laundering charges. So we have a certain amount of evidence before us which you would think would silence critics who say we’re all in perfect shape....
AMY GOODMAN: Can we talk about corporations, because it’s an issue you have taken on in your later books in a huge way? And interestingly, particularly corporate power in Africa—
JOHN LE CARRÉ: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: whether we’re talking The Constant Gardener, which took place in Kenya, or we’re talking The Mission Song, which took place in Congo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
JOHN LE CARRÉ: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. Well, it’s where I have seen globalization at work on the ground. It’s a pretty ugly sight. It’s a boardroom fantasy. What it actually means is the exploitation of very cheap labor, very often the ecological disaster that comes with it, the creation of mega-cities, the depletion of agrarian cultures and tribal cultures. It’s about—the effect of globalization, again, where I have seen it, has been negative, as far as the local population is concerned. It’s enriched the very few in the country where it takes place. And it has totally dismayed the inhabitants otherwise. So, ask me what corporate power means to me, it means the ability of the individual to sacrifice his own instincts, his own decent instincts, in the name of the corporation, that people will do things to—on behalf of the corporation, to a group of people, which they would never do to their next-door neighbor, so that all the decent humanity seems to be set aside the moment they walk through the corporate doors.
In The Constant Gardener, in particular, it was quite extraordinary to go to Basel, to get among the young pharmaceutical executives in a private way, promise them that I would never tell—divulge their names, and listen to them pouring out their rage against the work they were doing, at the people who were making them do it. But they were still taking the penny, and they were still doing what they were doing. They were still contributing to the invention of diseases. They were fiddling with compounds, turn them into new patents, when they actually had no greater effect than the previous patent. They were joining the lie that every new compound put on the market cost six or eight hundred million dollars, which is pretty good nonsense when you think that many of the main health life-saving drugs that go on the market have been developed, for instance, in your own federal laboratories and then sold by some strange method to the pharmaceutical company, so they didn’t do the hard work themselves very often.
So, when we think, supposedly with pride, that many corporations have the budgets, which are larger—have budgets which are larger than the many small nations, I find that most alarming. And, of course, in our country, we’re up against the fact that huge corporations are effective here, control the super markets, whatever they do, and they pay virtually no tax. We’re back to how they launder their money, or, if it’s a more polite way of saying it, how they apply sophisticated taxation arrangements so that they don’t pay tax...
...The things that are done in the name of the shareholder are, to me, as terrifying as the things that are done—dare I say it—in the name of God. Montesquieu said, "There have never been so many civil wars as in the Kingdom of God." And I begin to feel that’s true. The shareholder is the excuse for everything.