My 2012 Financial Transparency Person Of The Year Picks, Part II

December 6th, 2012

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Last week I wrote about a post, inspired by TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, about who I would pick for a “Transparency Person of the Year.” Keeping with TIME’s definition, this would be someone who influenced the news, for better or worse, on issues related to financial transparency. I got so many great suggestions for additions to the list that I’m following up this week. Without further ado, here’s some (additional) picks:

SHELDON ADELSON The billionaire casino mogul has dominated headlines this year. He made TIME Magazine’s nominations for “what critics cast as trying to buy the election,” through liberal use of Super PACs. But I’d include him here for a different reason. An investigation this year revealed that Adelson (or at least his executives) may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in their casino business in Macau. According to a former executive Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands casino may have had illegal dealings with a public official, as well as a tie to an organized crime figure. The whistleblowing—and the controversy—got the FCPA back into the spotlight at a watershed moment for the legislation. (H/T Clark Gascoigne and EJ Fagan, of Global Financial Integrity and the Task Force, respectively)

GARY GENSLER The Chairman of the Commodities Future Trading Commission has fought long and hard to bring transparency to the derivatives industry, a $650 trillion market made up of financial instruments whose misuse significantly contributed to the 2008 financial crisis. By the end of this year, in large part as a result of Gensler’s work, the industry will report transactions of these instruments in real-time and certain derivatives will report their transactions to Swap Data repositories. (H/T Cate Long,

STEPHEN COLBERT / JOHN STEWART From Super PACs to tax havens, this pair of comedians brought wit and attention to occasionally dry, but extremely important, transparency issues. This year Jon Stewart, with his usual sarcasm and occasionally obscene humor, went after Mitt Romney for his offshore accounts, HSBC for money laundering, and for shaping taxation law for its own benefit. My favorite gags this year, though, were Colbert’s, because of their execution. We all remember Colbert’s Super PAC Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Not only did Colbert use the Super PAC to shine light on how easy it is to finance campaigns with secret money, he also actually opened a shell corporation in Delaware, appropriately named, “Anonymous Shell Corporation,” so that other corporations could donate to his Super PAC anonymously and without limit.

XI JINGPING China’s new top leader assumed power this year after a once-in-a-decade handoff from Hu Jintao. That fact alone was enough to give him a spot on TIME’s list. I’d add him to my list, though, for one of his first major actions as general secretary. In his first speech to the Communist Party’s Potliburo on November 18th, Xi denounced the country’s rampant corruption, vowing it would “doom the party and the state” without action. Indeed, China has a serious problem with corruption and Xi—who has earned a reputation for his zero-tolerance policy toward venal officials—seems like the right leader to move China forward. (H/T EJ Fagan, Task Force)

TEODORIN OBIANG The son of Equatorial Guinea’s longtime President has been on the international hot seat before for his theft of public funds from his oil-rich home country. As Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Forestry his official annual salary is $82,000. Yet in the United States alone he owned a $38 million Gulfstream private jet, a $35 million Malibu mansion, a Ferrari, and dozens of pieces of Michael Jackson memorabilia worth about $2 million. I said he “owned” them because the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an asset forfeiture claim against many of Obiang’s U.S. held assets. That hard line sent made the U.S. position on these issues crystal clear. As Raymond Baker, director of Global Financial Integrity, has pointed out “[T]he United States is sending the message that it will no longer harbor the illicit assets of corrupt foreign officials.” (H/T Clark Gascoigne, Global Financial Integrity)

Now you. Do you think any of these deserve the win?

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Written by Ann Hollingshead

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