Columbia University in the City of New York


Expert Opinions - Russia, Eurasia

A podcast from the Harriman Institute and

Masha Udensiva-Brenner interviews experts about political and cultural developments in Russia and Eurasia.

Podcast | Expert Opinions: Looking at Luxury Real Estate’s Money Laundering Role
October 10, 2017

In this episode of our podcast on Eurasianet, Masha Udensiva-Brenner sits down with Harriman Institute Director Alexander Cooley to discuss his recent book, Dictators Without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia, co-authored by John Heathershaw. The book challenges popular assumptions about Central Asia, and provides context on President Donald Trump’s stance toward the formerly Soviet states, highlighting how luxury real estate can enable money laundering. This episode is part of a three-part series on offshore finance, money laundering, and Trump’s real estate deals in the post-Soviet region. Listen to parts two and three.

Cooley and Heathershaw published Dictators Without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia (Yale University Press) last March. The book disputes the notion that Central Asia is an isolated region with little influence over global affairs, and argues that Central Asia’s transnational presence is in fact sizable and should not be ignored. The region’s economic role, however, is shadowy — obscured by thickets of foreign bank accounts, third-party brokers, and shell companies. And these activities are facilitated by Western actors who both wittingly and unwittingly partake in money laundering schemes and bribery.

Since the book’s publication, the Trump Organization’s financial entanglements in the former Soviet space have helped draw attention to the intricate offshore networks of Central Asian elites, and characters like the dissident Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov — one of the four case studies in Cooley’s and Heathershaw’s book.

Udensiva-Brenner’s interview with Cooley is the first in a three-part series on offshore finance, money laundering, and Trump’s real estate deals in the post-Soviet region. In the second and third parts of the series, Udensiva-Brenner will speak with Columbia School of Journalism Investigative Fellows Manuela Andreoni and Inti Pacheco, and New Yorker staff writer Adam Davidson.

Alexander Cooley is the Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and director of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. His recent books include Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance (Cambridge University Press 2015), co-edited with Jack Snyder of Columbia University, and Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest for Central Asia (Oxford University Press 2012)

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