To really rip off the people you need to be a government

The Guardian is making much of this Azerbaijani Laundromat, the idea that people linked to - allegations as yet of course - the government of Azerbaijan have been using banks and limited companies to siphon money off to do all sorts of things.

Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret $2.9bn (£2.2bn) scheme to pay prominent Europeans, buy luxury goods and launder money through a network of opaque British companies, an investigation by the Guardian reveals.

Leaked data shows that the Azerbaijani leadership, accused of serial human rights abuses, systemic corruption and rigging elections, made more than 16,000 covert payments from 2012 to 2014.

We have no idea of the veracity of any of this, of course. But assume whichever way you prefer, it does show one thing. That to truly rip off the people you need to be the government. Only in that manner is it possible to actually force people into coughing up for such payments. Everyone else, however greedy a monopolist even, has to produce something of value in return in order to cash in.

This is thus a warning about government access to our wallets more than anything else - not a point we expect The Guardian to be making any time soon.