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Anti-kleptocracy bill would expose those who’ve been banned from US for corruption

The "Kleptocrat Exposure Act" is the latest salvo in the country's ongoing anti-kleptocracy efforts.

Bipartisan bill would expose names of people barred from US for corruption
Those close to Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (right) may soon see their ties to corrupt networks exposed by new U.S. legislation. (PHOTO CREDIT: MIKHAIL SVETLOV / GETTY IMAGES)

A new bipartisan bill introduced in the House this week could help upend foreign officials’ corrupt networks while shining a public light on the specific officials involved in kleptocracy abroad.

Introduced by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Steve Chabot (R-OH), the Kleptocrat Exposure Act would effectively permit the State Department to publicly reveal which foreign officials had been barred from the United States on account of gross corruption or human rights abuses. The bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, would also extend to those officials’ immediate family members.

“Global criminals and corrupt autocrats — or kleptocrats — seek to spend their ill-gotten gains in the United States, where they can indulge in luxury, pursue positions of influence, and exploit the rule of law, which protects their stolen wealth,” Cohen said in a statement. “Our country should not be a shelter for these corrupt individuals.”

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“Corrupt elites in Russia, and around the world, fear exposure. They thrive off of secrecy to continue to keep their corruption going,” Chabot added. “It is time to sound the alarm about who these bad actors are and shield American citizens from these crooks.”

The bill would specifically permit the U.S. Secretary of State to publicly expose which of these officials, or which of their family members, have received visa bans on account of their malign activity. Currently, such bans remain confidential, allowing these officials and their family members to continue ransacking their domestic populations, with the public, and potential financial partners, none the wiser.

“If made public, this information would further protect the United States and its allies by exposing these kleptocrats,” the Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. federal agency focusing on human rights and pro-democracy policies, said in a release. 

The current text of the bill doesn’t force U.S. officials to reveal the names of all of those who have received visa bans, but leaves it up to the discretion of the Secretary of State. It’s also not limited to those banned on account of grand corruption, but to those who are also “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

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While similar language exists elsewhere — namely, in Section 7031(c) — the “Kleptocrat Exposure Act” would amend the underlying statute that actually enables U.S. visa bans, meaning that the Secretary of State would have the authority to then publicly reveal the names of all current and future visa bans.

The bill is the latest salvo in the United States’ ongoing efforts to stamp out kleptocratic networks from Russia to Venezuela that continue to undercut American national security. It joins, for instance, a separate bill that would eliminate anonymous shell company formation in the United States — a favored tool of corrupt elites to move their money and hide it in things like American real estate. That bill, which recently passed out of a House committee, is now slated for a full House vote.

This article has been updated.