It’s only very occasionally that a sequel is more popular with critics and at the box-office than the film that came before it. There are a number of generally accepted exceptions: The Empire Strikes Back, Godfather Part II or Terminator II. Crime is the same. White collar crimes and financial black boxes are pretty much the same too. Only when they are truly innovative or of colossal proportions do they appear in the press. Yet their low frequency means that they cannot be taken as seriously as street crime. Modern political practices are also much more interested in converting arrests into convictions. Some within the legal world stand up and speak out against this, such as Balthasar Garzón, Bernard Bertossa and Renaud Van Ruymbeke. Whilst they have not been very successful in removing the legal obstacles, they have not given up.
Driven by the idea that the proceeds of crime do not disappear once they enter into tax havens, such personalities pursued, in the Geneva Appeal, for example, the idea that there is an organised system that brings it back into the real economy. Much attention has been placed on Clearstream. Clearstream is a clearing bank for banking transactions, operating much in the same way that a normal clearing bank organises the transactions of individuals and businesses. Yet, in terms of client-turnover ratio there is a large difference, as Clearstream has a mere 2,500 clients, yet handles trillions daily.
Over the years, it has appeared that Clearstream also had a number of undeclared clients. When a list of these accounts was leaked, it appeared that it contained many thousands of names, including those based in tax havens. The fact that many banks and companies had numerous hidden accounts with Clearstream, pointed many to the possibility that the funds held there were being used to finance a hidden economy, including for example, the evaporation of funds from banks in Argentina during the crisis there 10 years ago.
In 2001, a French journalist, Denis Robert, decides to uncover this system. The publication of this book, Revelation$, was met by blunt denial from the bank and with little support from the system. Even after one French politician published a public report on the subject, based on an official testimony, little came about. In Luxembourg, headquarters of the bank, however, legal circles were stirred enough to investigate members of the bank’s management.
A number of court cases followed, bringing little clarity and leading only to further litigation. Then some time later, Renaud Van Ruymbeke received a letter implicating a number of personalities from industry and politics in kickbacks from a business deal in Taiwan as well as evidence that they held bank accounts with Clearstream.
It took Denis Robert some ten years to clear his name and receive rulings in his favour, but by that time, the so-called Clearstream 1 case was lost in the paparazzi flashbulbs of Clearstream 2, which, as you may know, brought some of France’s most influential politicians head-to-head. Of course, the only relation between the two trials was the bank, yet it seems that neither would have ever reached the light of day had it not been for the good citizenship of one investigative journalist. The only other motivating factor was the events of 11 September 2001, which invigorated the fight against money laundering.
So what can we take from this? That no matter how hard you fight for a cause, it can be covered up in a minute. Those who followed the Clearstream 2 will know that many of the names on the lists sent to Mr. Van Ruymbeke had been added out of bad faith. Had it been in someone’s interest to add those names? Someone else’s to uncover the illegal and/or immoral commissions that go hand-in-hand with defence deals? Or perhaps to create a smoke screen around the inevitable albeit anticlimactic victory of Mr Robert? Most likely it was a good combination of them all.
Every good sequel, however, relies on the hard work, relative success and plot of an original. And as the years tick by, we often see that despite the inflated budget, star cast and media hype, it is the original that makes a stronger impression in the annals of history, either for cross-breeding genres or merely for the sheer perseverance that led to the making of something completely different. We must also accept that, as in cinema, the strong and powerful will strike back, create new breeds of bad guy and change the course of history in their favour at all costs.