Review: Very Bad People by Patrick Alley

Very Bad People by Patrick Alley is a non fictional work that highlights certain corruption issues around the world

Sometimes you read a blurb for a book and think, ‘I need to read this,’ Very Bad People is one of those books. 

This is not a fictional read, but any one of the stories here could easily be made into a blockbuster movie, and people would be forgiven for thinking it was a work of make-believe. Before you even read the opening chapter, the dedication hits this message home:

“…dedicated to those people around the world who daily risk their freedom, and

sometimes their lives, standing up to the Very Bad People this book is about…”

Very Bad People by Patrick Alley is a non-fictional book around corruption. Read the full review @tbookjunkie

Buy your copy of Very Bad People here

An Insight into Very Bad People

Written by Patrick Alley, one of the founders of Global Witness, an NGO that was founded to help create a “more sustainable, just and equal planet”, Very Bad People begins by explaining how the company started. 

Over beers in the pub one night after work back in the 90’s, Patrick along with Charmain Gooch and Simon Taylor, were discussing how appalled they were with what was taking place in Cambodia at the time and how no-one seemed to be able to stop it, or for that matter was even trying to do so.

“Our first undercover investigation, in early 1995, took us into the wild no-man’s land

of the Thai-Cambodian border and began to open our eyes onto a world

we thought existed only in fiction.” (Page 3)

It was at this point, after months of discussing the issues, that these three friends decided to create something that would go on to become one of the most effective organisations in fighting corruption at the highest levels.

Very Bad People goes on to discuss some of their most memorable campaigns and includes insights into:

#1 How Global Witness progressed with their first investigation into the timber plants in Cambodia and Thailand. They relive that very first foray into unsafe territories where anything could have happened in the hope that they would find out how the Khumer Rouge maintained its funding and how the regime profited well into the 1990’s.

#2 How blood diamonds were funding a war in Angola supported by the De Beers family, known for the finest diamonds and for the now-famous tagline, ‘A diamond is forever’. Patrick explains that the buyers of these diamonds unfortunately had a money over lives mindset and didn’t really consider the cost of loss for each diamond purchased.

Diamond ring, but how do you know if it is a blood diamond? Very Bad People

Image provided by Jeffrey Beall

#3 The night Leonid Minin, senior figure in the Ukrainian mafia, was arrested in a Milan hotel after a nervous call from a prostitute. When the police arrived they discovered not only cocaine, diamonds, money and passports for various countries but also the documents that exposed his arms trades with people including Charles Taylor, warlord president of Liberia and how Global Witness then went on to help in their arrests.

#4 How their actions saw the assets of the Obiang family, leaders of Equatorial Guinea, seized. Among these assets were three Bugatti Veyron’s and a multi-million dollar mansion in California. Very Bad People reveals just how much wealth this family removed from the country and how the population continued to suffer. This extremely poor country was poor because of their leaders. Global Witness also highlights how the banks help to facilitate the money laundering of this corrupt family.

“Large-scale corruption occurs invariably in major financial centres and involves

polished lawyers, bankers, accountants and PR professionals who cover their tracks.” (Page 169)

#5 How oil can turn greedy organisations into non law-abiding citizens willing to launder millions of dollars to get their hands on supplies currently untapped off the shores of places like Nigeria and how some large corporations and lawyer firms are willing to turn a blind eye if the reward is great enough.

#6 Investigations that took place in 2019 which exposed 300 banks, highlighting that they had provided $44 billion to help facilitate six of the world’s most destructive agribusinesses. These businesses are still using the beef trade to expand the destruction of the Amazon, a forest that spans 9 countries with 60 percent lying in Brazil, and what that could potentially mean for the world if it continues.

Amazon Rainforest in Brazil

Image provided by 2011CIAT/NeilPalmer

“According to Brazilian scientist Carlos Nobre, if the Amazon forest loses around 40

percent of its original extent, it will pass a tipping point and become dry savannah. At

the current rates of deforestation the tipping point is just 20 to 30 years away,

after that we cannot win the battle against climate change.” (Page 298)

My Thoughts on Very Bad People

To read this book and feel nothing is ultimately impossible. Even those individuals that choose to bury their heads in the sand will surely read this and see that we are all facilitating some extremely unjust ways in the world; most of us without even realising it. For example, people may have, in their possession, a diamond that was once purchased by De Beers whose origin is less-than savoury or you may be eating beef from those choosing to destroy the Amazon and not even understand the full implications of this.

That’s the point of Very Bad People, it raises our awareness. Yes, it may read like a spy novel, which is testament to the author, but it’s all real and these individuals are risking their lives every day to try and make a difference.

If, after reading this, you find yourself reflecting on what you do and how you can start to make small changes to help create a more equal planet, then this book has done its job. 

Most people, when reading the papers or listening to the news, already know that they are only receiving a snippet of information; information designed to make us believe or act in a certain way but Very Bad People also makes you realise that unless you personally look into these stories more, you will only ever know what others want you to know to make it appear like they are doing all they can to help, but are they?

This is a book that places a spotlight on inequality, uncovering how it is responsible for most of the corruption in the world and highlights that:

“The world contains its fair share of ‘conventional’ crime bosses like Leonid Minin,

but its most senior crime lord’s are often hiding in plain sight. They include heads of state

and captains of industry – the very pillars of society.” (Page 3)

Very few people can write a non-fictional tale like this and create an addictive page-turner. By adding details to each story they add to the gravitas of the situation which only continues to draw the reader in. Just like in any good crime novel, you need to know what happens next, will they all survive and will their discoveries lead to convictions and perhaps more importantly affect change.

Have you read Very Bad People? Maybe you have read a book on a similar topic that you think others may be interested in.

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Very Bad People by Patrick Alley undercovers the corruption happening around the world via @tbookjunkie

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