Accountability Lab and the Honesty Oscars mentioned in the October 2017 New Yorker.

A private investigator and a New School professor have created a game in which players must launder their ill-gotten riches without getting caught.

You’ve been named chairman of a major-party candidate’s Presidential campaign. And it turns out that you can work for free, because, through a series of dubious transactions and nimble maneuvers, you’re able to keep thirty or sixty million dollars peregrinating through various overseas bank accounts. Cool!

Or maybe you’re the leader of one of the hundred and ninety-five countries in the world. Never mind how you landed that gig (free election? rigged election? dynastic inheritance? super-super-high I.Q.?), it comes with a jumbo helping of entitlement. Being human, before long you start to take the perks for granted, until one day up pops this thought: I need more. Conveniently, you’ve discovered a back door to your country’s treasury, or a slick method for friction-less bribery, and . . . moneymoneymoney! There for the taking, which is nice, but also the source of an ancillary urgency: where to hide it. Opulent homes on many continents, each with a private zoo? Patek Philippe watches for every day of the month?

To guide you through the do’s and don’ts, Jim Mintz and Irwin Chen have created Kleptocrat, a new free game available in the Apple App Store. Kleptocrat operates on the premise that the Player is a bad guy trying to launder ill-gotten riches while evading the Investigator, a relentless exemplar of all the anti-corruption killjoys out there. Mintz is the founder of the Mintz Group, an international private-investigation firm (“Clarity in a complex world”), many of whose clients are law firms pursuing civil cases, and Chen is a designer and an adjunct professor in interaction design at the New School. The hide-and-seek scenarios in Kleptocrat are extrapolated from the behaviors of real kleptocrats around the world, including those laid out in Where the Bribes Are, a Mintz Group database. Rendered as a map of the world, the database depicts, to scale and in deepening shades of red, the bribe-susceptibility of industries within a given country, as well as details of successful prosecutions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “Our expertise boils down to following dirty money,” Mintz said the other day, in a boardroom on lower Fifth Avenue. In 2015, Where the Bribes Are was nominated for an Honesty Oscar from the Accountability Lab, an international organization dedicated to curbing corruption in the developing world.

Mintz got his private investigator’s license in 1980, a segue from investigative journalism. In the late seventies, he was part of a team in Washington, D.C., that somehow avoided blindness while piecing together shredded documents salvaged from a dumpster in the alley behind the office of a corrupt K Street lobbyist. Since 2007, he’s taught investigative reporting at Columbia’s School of Journalism. His habitual aversion to publicity was tested in the nineteen-nineties, when he wound up in the tabloids for suing Ivana Trump in a fee dispute, after she allegedly stiffed him for work he did during her divorce from Donald of the same last name.

The archetypal kleptocrat, Mintz says, “may be good at running a country or a business, but he’s terrible at hiding money.” One recent weekend, a reporter in late middle age spent several hours validating that dictum on his iPhone, playing Kleptocrat over and over without coming close to beating the Investigator.

Each game begins with a bribe (keeping a casino open in exchange for free chips; arranging a government contract “for the mobile phone company that just hired your 16-year-old daughter as a ‘consultant’ ”; a kickback on a contract to deliver defibrillators to Army hospitals). Hiding and laundering the money often requires a network of devious offshore lawyers (“expert in exotic island banks, sleazy accountants, pirate tax-havens, fake charities, backdated registrations”), corrupt military officers, well-connected mistresses, oblivious front men, or the occasional Liechtenstein foundation. Eventually, the money is meant to be enjoyed—a private fleet of jets and helicopters; a Hong Kong shopping spree with sequentially numbered credit cards for each of your in-laws; a rare-game safari; Elvis Presley’s starburst jumpsuit. The fun lasts as long as you can evade the Investigator—that is, until your buddy’s coked-up girlfriend flips on you, or your wife’s gym-rat cousins get clipped moving suitcases of cash through customs. You win if you accumulate a certain amount of swag before getting busted. In the event of the latter, it’s game over and you, a prisoner of your ravenous avarice, tap Play and try again.

“Some people are sending us their badges showing that they’ve won eighteen times in a row, but I knew my demographic would be a bit challenged by it,” Mintz, who is sixty-three, said. “The game developers we worked with told us that we had to strike a balance. We think it’s real. Sometimes you get away with shit and sometimes you don’t.” ♦

This article appears in the print edition of the New Yorker October 30, 2017, issue, with the headline “Game Over.”

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