This is the most important film that I’ve seen in years and it bears several viewings. It is deeply instructive and revelatory of the foundation of almost all of the corruption that pervades our world today, which is rarely, if ever discussed in this forthright manner.
‘The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire’ was self-financed by Michael Oswald for £4,000 but it has a much higher quality of information than any documentary about finance that you will ever see on TV. Oswald was the creator of the brilliant 2012 film, which I ran on this site, ‘97% Owned‘
For 300 years, the British Empire was the largest the world has ever known but after World War II, it all began to fall apart. As the British elites saw their wealth, privileges and Empire disintegrate, they began to search for a new role in a changing world – and they found one in finance.
Many know that London is the most important financial centre in the world and some may have heard that the City of London has a unique political status, owing to its having been incorporated since Medieval Anglo-Saxon times and being a tiny corner of Britain that had managed to resist the Norman conquest of 1066. William the Conqueror granted citizens of “the City” a charter in 1075 that remains in force to this day.
As the British Empire collapsed in the 1950s, financial institutions found that by claiming to operate within the tiny jurisdiction of the Corporation of the City of London, they could circumvent the regulation and taxation of the UK. When American banks understood that the City allowed them to avoid US regulations, they were quick to move their international operations there, to the point where, half a century later, it has become standard practice for large corporations to leverage and to outsource not just their financial assets but their operations, in order to skirt the laws and taxes of their home jurisdictions.
The mid-century banks set up the Euromarket, where currencies from outside their countries of issue were held and traded and called “eurocurrencies”. The eurocurrency market developed into the major source of finance for international trade we know today, because of the ease of convertibility and the absence of domestic restrictions on trading.
In the 1960s, the City of London’s model was replicated in the last remaining territories of the Empire. Accountants and lawyers from London descended upon these British dependencies and cobbled together “secrecy jurisdictions”. Of the 14 overseas remnants of the British Empire, seven of them, including Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands are the biggest tax havens in the world today.
British financial investigative journalist, Nicholas Shaxson explains, “What the Cayman Islands was doing was straightforwardly illegal activity; drug money was coming in in huge quantities; tax evasion, whatever you wanted, you could have it.”
The Bank of England observed these developments from London and determined that as long as UK capital wasn’t transferred to the non-Sterling area outside UK rules, they didn’t mind. Their aim was to create offshore centres with strong secrecy legislation in order to attract capital from across the globe.
This lawlessness inevitably attracted all of the unsavory elements that one could imagine, like the Pakistani Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was eventually accused of opening accounts or laundering money for figures such as Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega and for criminal organizations, such as the Colombian Medellin drug cartel and for the terrorist, Abu Nidal.
Police and intelligence experts nicknamed BCCI the “Bank of Crooks and Criminals International” for its penchant for catering to customers who dealt in arms, drugs, and hot money. The Central Intelligence Agency held several accounts at BCCI. According to a 1991 article in Time magazine, the National Security Council also had accounts at BCCI, which were used for a variety of covert opera