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Gareth Vaughan on the NZ links to major international money laundering scandals, Iceland's GFC bounce back, reversing China's one child policy & the phenomenon of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Gareth Vaughan on the NZ links to major international money laundering scandals, Iceland's GFC bounce back, reversing China's one child policy & the phenomenon of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

This Top 5, comes from's own Gareth Vaughan. Note, Top 5 has replaced our previous Top 10 column.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

We are always keen to find new Top 5 contributors so if you're interested in contributing, contact

1) Another major international money laundering scandal breaks and once again there's a New Zealand link.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has this week unveiled what it's calling the Troika Laundromat. The OCCRP, which has a strong track record of unearthing major money laundering scandals involving Russia and its neighbours, says the mastermind behind this latest one was Troika Dialog, once Russia’s largest private investment bank.

The scheme was discovered in a large set of banking transactions and other documents obtained by OCCRP and the Lithuanian news site The data, which was compiled from multiple sources, represents one of the largest releases of banking information ever, involving more than $470 billion sent in 1.3 million leaked transactions from 233,000 companies.

The main purpose of the system we’ve named the Troika Laundromat was to channel billions of dollars out of Russia. But it was much more than a money laundering system: The Laundromat allowed Russian oligarchs and politicians to secretly acquire shares in state-owned companies, to buy real estate both in Russia and abroad, to purchase luxury yachts, to hire music superstars for private parties, to pay medical bills, and much more.

To protect themselves, the wealthy people behind this system used the identities of poor people as unwitting signatories in the secretive offshore companies that ran the system.

Regular readers may remember that back in 2017, when the OCCRP unveiled the US$2.9 billion international money laundering operation known as the Azerbaijani Laundromat, a series of New Zealand companies were up to their necks in it.

Well surprise, surprise. Early coverage of the Troika Laundromat shows the involvement of another NZ company, Lankon Ltd, as reported by Denmark's Berlingske. Lankon is a NZ company created by the infamous Taylor family. NZ Police have received more than 350 criminal investigation enquiries about NZ companies the Taylors established. Note the paragraphs below are translated from Danish.

One example is transfers to Nordea customer Lankon Limited from Delico Corporation. The company, based in Azerbaijan's capital Baku, transferred from its account to the Lithuanian bank Ukio Bankas $ 19.7 million. NOK to an account in Nordea's Vesterport department belonging to the company Lankon Limited. The total of 40 transfers takes place in the period February 2008 to May 2011, and in all cases the reason for the payment is stated as "for equipment".

Lankon Limited had an address in New Zealand and the associated director was Nesita Manceau through Vicam (Auckland) Limited. Nesita Manceau lived on the island and the Vanuatu tax haven, but has since moved back to his home country, the Philippines. Despite her "profession" as a housewife, she has been deployed as director in more than 400 companies from 2007 to 2011.

When Nordea entered Lankon as a customer in Copenhagen, the bank should have seen many red flags , stresses Graham Barrow.

»Why should a New Zealand company with a Filipino housekeeper as director open an account with a bank in Copenhagen? Why? And then: Why should the company receive over $ 19.3 million in more than three years? kroner from a company based in Baku in Azerbaijan via a Lithuanian bank? At what level does it make any sense? It just doesn't. And Nordea should have discovered it, ”he says.

Nesita Manceau was Taylor family patriarch Geoffrey's housekeeper in Vanuatu.

UPDATE: An OCCRP story out overnight in the Troika Laundromat series features another NZ company, Vantrel Invest Ltd.

Over two months near the beginning of 2008, Rebasso wired $68.3 million in 106 individual transfers to a bank account owned by Vantrel Invest Ltd., a New Zealand–registered shelf company.

Vantrel doesn’t appear to be a Troika Laundromat company; rather it is an intermediary that sent millions on to the Laundromat. (Vantrel’s bank account was held at Ukio Bankas, where many Laundromat companies held their accounts.) Documents related to the transactions said they were to buy mobile phones, though this explanation is almost certainly another fiction.

2) Dark Money. 

On the subject of money laundering I recommend 'The Dark Money Files' podcast series. It features Graham Barrow who is quoted in the Berlingske article above. In the tweet below Barrow is referring to Megacom Transit Ltd.

As previously reported by, Megacom was a client of Danske Bank, the Danish bank at the centre of a €200 billion money laundering scandal. Megacom also featured in the fraud perpetrated against Bill Browder's Hermitage Capital Management and the Russian taxpayer, that resulted in the Magnitsky Act, - named after Browder's lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in Russian custody in 2009. And Megacom featured in this NZ Herald story.

3) Iceland's GFC bounce back continues.

Remember how hard Iceland was hit by the Global Financial Crisis? The country's three biggest banks - Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing - all collapsed having amassed assets 10 times the size of Iceland’s annual GDP. Iceland has bounced back strongly and its government is now looking to establish a sovereign wealth fund worth about 300 billion kronur, or US$2.5 billion, which is equivalent to about US$7,000 per Icelander.

Here's Bloomberg;

It’s a testament to Iceland’s success -- and hard work -- in steering its way out of the financial ruin that hit in 2008. Largely out of necessity, politicians unveiled a string of policies that were as controversial as they were successful, including trapping foreign investors, nationalizing banks and writing off consumer debt. The nation was also blessed with a boom in tourism, bringing a rare surplus in its accounts with the rest of the world.

“The upswing of the past years is unique in the history of the country,” said Gylfi Zoega, a professor at the University of Iceland and a member of the Icelandic central bank’s monetary policy committee. “Usually an upswing has been driven by foreign demand and ended in a currency crisis, but now it’s export driven and there has been a lot of domestic savings.”

The fund will -- on top of Iceland’s already sizable currency reserves -- provide a buffer to protect the small North Atlantic island against major unforeseen events. To avoid overheating the local economy, it will invest abroad, snapping up stocks, bonds and even private equity.

4) China's one child policy problems.

This effort by the Chinese government is one of many fascinating issues to watch in China. I have to admit though that I've been rather sceptical of the one child policy for some time. This is because of what a friend of mine, who lived in China, told me several years ago. He said he befriended a neighbour who was his family's second child. Officially this guy didn't exist, and could never get things such as a passport. But in reality he very much did exist, and according to my friend there were millions more like him in China.

Here's The Guardian;

Faced with a population that is shrinking and ageing, Chinese policymakers are attempting to engineer a baby boom after more than three decades of a Malthusian family planning regime better-known as the one-child policy. Central policy planners have loosened restrictions on family sizes, and now all married couples can have two children. There is talk of the limits being dropped altogether, and amid aggressive propaganda drives, local officials are experimenting with subsidies and incentives for parents.

But these efforts appear to be too little too late. Birthrates have fallen and are likely to continue to drop as parents like Xu decide against having more children. More young women are pushing back against state propaganda and family pressure, while improving education standards and income levels have delayed marriage and childbirth. Moreover, decades of the one-child policy have made single-child households the norm, experts say.


Demographers warn that China’s population will begin to shrink in the next decade, potentially derailing the world’s second-largest economy, with a far-reaching global impact. China’s birthrate last year was at its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, with 15.23 million births, dramatically lower than the 21-23 million officials had expected.

By 2050 as much as a third of the country’s population will be made up of people over the age of 60, putting severe strain on state services and the children who bear the brunt of caring for elderly relatives.

5) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes US politics by storm. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first term Democrat congresswoman from New York, is making waves in US politics. Whether it be through the Green New Deal, promoting Medicare for all, a 70% tax rate on income above $10 million, a guaranteed living wage or attacking campaign finance laws, AOC - as she is known - has quickly developed a high profile.

At just 29, and with a background in bar-tending and waitressing, she cuts a very different figure to senior, elderly Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and "grumpy grandpa" Bernie Sanders. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist, has shown herself to be a social media star. But she's revealing some substance as well. Witness her slick performance questioning President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen at the House Oversight Committee last week.

It's clearly too soon for Ocasio-Cortez to run for President, and being under 35 she's too young to anyway. However who she endorses in 2020 could be influential, especially among young people. 

Ocasio-Cortez comes from a generation who don't recall the Cold War, and thus don't see "socialism" as a dirty word as it has tendered to be treated in US politics. Trump, who is from the Cold War generation, is unsurprisingly making much of "socialist" Democrats.

With the likes of Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders on the Democrat side, and crony capitalist Trump having lurched the Republicans well to the right, the options for American voters next year may be starkly different, which hasn't always been the case. Meanwhile, this quote from a New Yorker article demonstrates that when it comes to Trump, Ocasio-Cortez has a refreshing attitude to his extreme narcissism.

Ocasio-Cortez says that she has tried to keep her focus partly by avoiding watching Trump on television: “He relies and thrives on attention, and so the less attention he’s given, even if it’s just one set of eyeballs, the weaker he is.” 

Certainly one to watch on the left of US politics.

 Cartoon below by Matt Wuerker of Politico.

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I hope our gov is having a close look at what Iceland did after the GFC. With what is most likely coming it could be very helpful.

And I sincerely hope the Australian government is not looking at what Iceland did during the GFC, because us Kiwis might like the Aussie taxpayer keep our banks solvent, k thx.

Iceland has indeed recovered strongly since the GFC , and is it coincidental or not that they are not a member of the EU , and as such , do not operate with the Euro , but trade under their own currency ...

... perhaps someone would be kind enough to bear this message to the Greeks !

Exactly. And Iceland did sensible things like institute capital controls and not go down the austerity path. See for more about Iceland's recovery.
"The government didn’t impose large-scale austerity in response [to the crisis] but allowed the deficit to support growth as long as it was required to allow private domestic expenditure to recover and take over the growth role."

If Greece had had the courage to ditch the Euro it could have been much better off by now.
Anyone who bemoans Brexit and goes on about how wonderful the EU is needs to take a good cold hard look at what it's done to Greece. Some benevolent force. Having the freedom to do what Iceland did to recover is key to any nation.


What you fail to point out is that the UK is NOT in the Eurozone. Gordon Brown as Chancellor very sensibly kept the UK out of the then nascent Euro,so comparisons with the Greek fiasco are not relevant.
I have no more idea than you or anyone else whether exiting from the EU will benefit the UK in the long-term or not,but what is certain is that it will bring immediate and severe pain to the UK economy. Ironically and sadly,it will be felt in the regions which voted strongly for Brexit.
I have long been a critic of the EU for many reasons,but I would not have voted to leave.

I think a Labour government under the EU will quickly face problems with its programme of nationalisation of key infrastructure and investment programmes under EU competition laws. Also capital controls are a no no under the "free movement of capital" - as one of the pillars of the EU.
I was initially a Remainer as I rather like having the right to work in continental Europe. But that is a middle class luxury. Then I read a great deal more about the structure, history and economic settings of EU and I am now convinced leaving is the right thing to do. Being out of the EU will help UK labour deal better with the neoliberal dominance withing the UK. I changed my mind.

Greek is not where they are because they are in Euro Zone and Iceland is not where they are because they are not. Greek would have been as bankrupted and run down even if it was a bit further to the east and therefore outside Europe all together. Iceland would have found ways to thrive even if being part of Europe would have raised challenges for them.
We tend to forget that any nation's most important capital ( in long term at least) is its human capital (including how these humans can work together to get something). Not what currency regime they might or might not have.

That is just essentialist rubbish. The Icelandic were very irresponsible in their banking practices and lending prior to the GFC. It's just they had the fiscal space of a sovereign currency to help them deal with the results of their irresponsibility without imposing austerity. They could devalue their currency and institute capital controls. Greeks could not. Greece would have had a very different fate had it stayed out of the Euro - problems yes - but not the level of mass unemployment and contraction we see today.


China's one-child policy was the only sane (ex war or overshoot/collapse) addressing of the Limits to Growth, ever attempted.

Obviously, the need to keep the masses hopeful has re-over-ridden commonsense. And they're back on the stupid bandwagon which says you need more people to be more wealthy (how come Bangladesh isn't streets away richer than NZ, then?)

All politicians seen to be blinkered by the idea of money doing stuff, and by 'jobs' somehow earning that 'money'. Sure, it looked like that was what was happening, but really the money was just a way of allocating resource-access, while all the time they were being depleted. Real riches is having resources. Real poverty is having no resources. Real per-head riches means less heads per resource. Real per-head poverty means less resource per head.

How long will it take for that message to sink in?

Ocasio-Cortez represents a p......ed off generation. They've been stolen from, and been left the bill.

Oscar-Cortez represents exactly the kind of person you should despise, given your views of fiat currency.

Read my words with care. Did I say I supported her?

Read my comment with care. Did I say you supported her?

Take a look at Cortez on campaign funding....weep at what has happened to American democracy. I was dumbfounded.

I'm not saying America isn't broken.
What I'm saying is that Oscar-Cortez is not the answer for fixing it.

Especially as she and others could well be facing FEC investigation over her apparent control over a PAC or at the least, using the PAC to circumvent electoral finance reporting requirements.

“It looks like the campaign and PAC are under common control and the PAC was funding campaign staff and activities as an alter-ego of the campaign committee, which would be a blatant abuse of the PAC rules.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti could face prison if the FEC determines that they knowingly and willfully withheld their ties between the campaign and the political action committee from the FEC to bypass campaign contribution limits, according to Smith.

“At minimum, there’s a lot of smoke there, and if there are really only three board members and she and [Chakrabarti] are two of them, sure looks like you can see the blaze,” Smith, a Republican, told TheDCNF. “I don’t really see any way out of it.”

One can see why she has attracted the epithet 'Occasional Cortex'......


Founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson, a 20-year veteran journalist, and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, The Daily Caller...

Does that mean what they are reporting is wrong? Just because they have a bias doesn’t automatically mean everything they say is incorrect. This has been reported by multiple news sources now so I think it’s safe to assume there’s at least some merit to it. Let’s play the ball not the man.

Well, I'm not an expert on US electoral finance laws. But The Caller has form in playing the woman rather than the ball -

Yuck, that's not cool. Detestable as they may be, a broken watch is still right twice a day and it still appears that there is a legitimate issue with her campaign finance. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

What's interesting too is the coinciding of those for whom investigation of Trump is a conspiracy or witch hunt while investigation of AOC has no political motivation and she's likely guilty right out of the blocks.

They can chant “lock her up” as well now lol.

She represents the portion of that generation who look at issues very superficially. Anyone who looks slightly deeper realises she’s pretty radical and not in a positive way.

TBH she is just as dangerous as, if not more than, orange man.

She's about as radical and naive as they come. A dangerous, dangerous combination in politics when you manage to garner support.

Radical? Naive?

You're the one who thinks growth can go on forever, aren't you?

How about filling in the gaps in your education (it was economics, wasn't it? More gap than substance) before commenting?

She wants a world she can live in. Your approach is giving her an empty global mine, no energy and a whole lot of unaddressed waste/effluent. In other words, the physical bill. Your 'discipline duck-shoves all that - something conveniently called 'externalities'. I call that hogwash.

Do you have children? You think they're gonna thank you?

I doubt it.

"Your approach is giving her an empty global mine"

Ahh, what? You mean her approach is to give herself an empty goldmine, right?
I mean, that is pretty much exactly what she advocates with MMT.

It never ceases to amaze me your hatred for those trained in economics. Especially so when you just really don't understand more than you can get from like minded blog posts of similarly uneducated persons.

Being radical doesn't mean she is wrong! I was inmpressed with her line of questioning, and frankly, at this stage of the game, anyone who can hold the mega-wealthy and dinosaur incumbent politicians to account for the inaction and excesses is a good thing. It's going to take a while to roll the corrupt politicl processes back towards true democracy, and it will take more like AOC to achieve that irrespective of her motivations.

The problem is once she and her ilk start getting traction, keeping them honest and transparent!

I didn't say she was wrong because she was radical. It's her proposed solutions that are the issue for me. And I'm more than happy for people to ask questions - hopefully they might even stumble on the real causes not just the symptoms for a change. Yes politics around the world is broken in many ways however I dread to think that that might lead to the election of someone like AOC.

Yeah that's the problem with democracy - you might end up with a politician in power who you don't like but represents an ideology and/or group of people you don't agree with!

Agreed, that's why governments should be much more restricted with their powers and roles. We will always end up with inept people in charge so our political systems should be designed with that knowledge to minimise the damage that elected officials can do.

In refusing to condemn Maduro she is tacitly supporting him, and cheerleading authoritarian socialism. But big government is the great evil - killed more people in the 20th century than any other political folly, and the scary thing with experimenting with big Govt is that you can vote yourself into it, or just apathetically let it be foisted upon your by armies of empire building bureaucrats and politicians, but once you've gone down that road they only way to get out again involves shooting.

When years of small government can't seem to deliver basics like decent housing, education and employment and in the US, healthcare, to all its citizens despite massive wealth you can forgive people for thinking it's time to give bigger government a chance. You see by "starving the beast" in downsizing the state you've undermined faith in the market. Markets do best with sensible states smoothing over the externalities and market failures and providing good basics.

When were those years of small government?!? For a long time the US gov has been gigantic and only getting larger. In fact, one could easily argue that as they’ve gotten larger things have gotten worse if anything.

edit: Here's an interesting link from 2012 about US gov size for reference:

While there might be a 1% chance that a planned economy delivers what you listed, there is a certainty that it will deny a lot of individual and social freedoms. In no time, you will be slaving for a government. Everything you do must be according to the greater good. etc.
A market-based approach has serious limitations and sensible government is needed. But Bigger Government does not mean sensible.

AOC is going to go a long way whatever any of us think of her, she ticks every identity politics box there is. While I think she's bat-sh1+ crazy, naive & even outright dangerous - there is an element of intrigue about her. It's also likely she matures and becomes a little more orthodox.

Not only is she a smart young woman but AOC is advised by none other that Stephanie Kelton, the MMT economist taking on Paul Krugman at the moment over the effectiveness of fiscal policy crowding out etc. The neoliberals and libertarians have had their way since Regan and Thatcher. The pendulum has swung and as I've said before, it's utopian to think that things can stay as they are. Inequality and stagnation since 2008 have created the political conditions for a radical change. Better it come from a Green New Deal than a new form of fascism.

Latest from Kelton in Krugman debate.

Exactly why she is a liability.
If you advocate MMT as the solution to all (any) of your problems, you are genuinely retarded.

Funny how so called ‘economists’ like to abuse when another system or view is promoted. Especially when their view has caused such grief over the last 40 years.
MMT has a world wide following

If you keep thinking that monetary policy based on ongoing erroneous measures of the output gap and NAIRU and over emphasis on the power of interest rates to stimulate investment is enough to solve the lack of aggregate demand hampering economies such as NZ Australian US etc post GFC and driving political populism you are - not "retarded" - I am too polite - but shall we say, failing to learn the empirical lessons of the last 10 years.

Fiscal policy is more powerful. MMT tells us that functional deficits are sensible when there is unemployment and underutilised capacity. MMT does not tell us the "deficits don't matter" or that you print money with no consequence.

Presumably the wisdom of running a current account surplus, like Iceland, will be incomprehensible to anyone directly or indirectly on the government payroll. Sigh.

The politicians, bureaucrats, and those who profit from their stupidity, really like boom and bust policies. It means they can Implement Things, and Regulate Things, and Look Clever, and Find Someone to Blame. Meaning they can continue to act as a Toll Booth on the rest of us.

The rest of us are just a Tragedy of the Commons. Ends in dust every time. Any attempt to improve on that outcome is therefore the better move.

they are captives of the lobbyists either directly or indirectly Roger. Sucking up to the trough or tit that feeds their bank account. Holding them to account is the trick. Look at our own politicians pay and conditions. How often do they get publically debated?

The fact that AOC is a socialist should discount her from the national discourse. Socialism, in its many forms, has caused more pain and misery than anything in the history of humanity. Her ideas are plain stupid and dangerous. The only silver lining about her "Green New Deal" is so unrealistic that it has no chance of ever being implemented. The best thing we could ever do for people like AOC is to ignore her dangerous delusions and not give her a platform.

You don't appear to be advocating democracy or free speech here NoFax.

Let's be very clear; AOC is not a "bit of a lefty" that would find a home in the Labour Party here. She is a full on socialist that wants the government to plan and control the entire economy and society. She is clearly free to advocate what she wants but of course you, (, don't have to provide a platform; you have editorial control. Also just because a socialist tacks on the word democratic doesn't not make it so. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea would prove that. If AOC and her ilk are given real power there will be no democracy like every other socialist has done through our history.

So I wonder how you view our ex National Prime Minister promoting the virtues of Communist China? As I stated a week ago: "Forget Reds under the bed, this one is right out there".

Has anyone seen this from Reuters staff Trevor Hunnicutt and Jennifer Ablan ?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The European economy is cooling more than many investors believe, Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser for Allianz SE, said on Monday, warning that the slowdown poses the biggest risk to the market.

In our extreme little world, the fight between the left & right is getting ugly. The only reason the e-lefties are getting eyeballs is that e-right has stuffed it up. The difference between the two is also extreme.
On the right you have the wealthy getting wealthier, which on its own is not a bad thing. It's only if you have no wealth that this is a problem. What we are seeing from the left, is the young ones with their born again-socialism, untainted by their elder peers, tearing into the crumbling establishment with their millennial vigor.
Sadly the new socialists are more focused on destroying capitalism than they are with any real better ways for the new millennium. It's one thing to destroy something, it's quite another to create something better. IF AOC & her type were to read a little of their own history, she may be a little more humble, but she's far to busy enjoying destroying the current system to stop now. Socialism is at its finest with new beginnings. Delivering something better, however, is another matter.

In ecological terms, it matters not whether draw-down is done by a left or a right-leaning society. It's a draw-down, and will therefore cease.

No-interest capitalism won't work entirely either - over the top it may, but down the backside of the graph you'd have to use negative interest with increasing numbers. And then there's the impossible-to-repay debt overhang.

Look, NO economic system, capitalism or socialism or everything in between, that relies on growth and that at this moment is all of them will survive a downsize in their present forms. First and foremost the thing we all have to get our heads around is that we must acknowledge and then act upon the fact that it is physically impossible for continual growth in a finite world.
The first best move anyone can make is reducing population. China did that in somewhat brutal fashion, but now, it seems, after having gained the upper hand feeding on the growth of other countries, has come to a grinding halt but instead of putting their thinking caps on, are falling back on population growth. However, as can now be clearly seen, women with control and the ability to do so, will not settle happily for a life of pushing out babies, probably why women through the ages have found themselves in situations of no control.
You may think those of us who are saying that capitalism (in present form anyway) will not survive this, but neither will anything else.

So let's build a few space elevators so we can start getting off this finite rock and out in to the infinite universe. Problem solved and we don't have to kill billions.

Suu-ure. We don't HAVE to kill billions, we just stop creating billions, but if we don't stop creating billions then, yes, we will start killing each other, billions of us. What is the problem that you have with us living within the planet's means, pray tell, given your solution is completely and utterly pie in the sky.

Ocasio-Cortez comes from a generation who don't recall the Cold War, and thus don't see "socialism" as a dirty word as it has tendered to be treated in US politics. Trump, who is from the Cold War generation, is unsurprisingly making much of "socialist" Democrats.

Socialism was already a fought-against concept in the USA before the Cold War.

But the USA is so much further right of NZ that many of AOC's discussion points would only bring it closer to NZ and much of the first world. E.g. universally funded (and lower cost as percentage of GDP) healthcare, lower education costs (through not incentivising soaring university prices), mixing taxes more (to the days when social mobility was higher).

Will be 2024 before she can run anyway.

The US is not much further to the right than we are - on some things yes on others no. (Whatever "right" means). For example, the regulations that the US operates under is so much more than others. Recently, a man got fined in Arizona for giving homeless people haircuts because he did not have a hairdressing licence.
AOC's policies are not modeled on ours in regards to healthcare and education. And her most expensive policies in the "Green New Deal" are things like guaranteed federal jobs etc. That's not NZ.

An interesting look at the big 4 accounting firms from Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung (in English) -

Great Top 5, Gareth.

Iceland is indeed an amazing case study. One of the only examples of modern day debt forgiveness that I can think of... it would be nice to know whether that model could scale-up.