Looking at Luxury Real Estate’s Money Laundering Role

Updated: May 24


Audio / I talk to the political scientist Alexander Cooley about his book Dictators Without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia.



Co-authored with 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.


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.

My 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, I will speak with Columbia School of Journalism Investigative Fellows Manuela Andreoni and Inti Pacheco, and New Yorker staff writer Adam Davidson.


Listen on Eurasianet.