Well, it happened again. You remember that I once said that when I go out to dinner and say what I do for a living, I often find myself held responsible for the due diligence woes of the whole table, not to mention their extended families? My lovely hostess, trying to knit common ground between a diverse group of guests, started talking about Bernie Madoff, everyone’s favourite Ponzi fraudster. “How do you know so much about him?” demanded the university science professor to my left. I explained. Oh dear. Will I never learn? “What I object to,” he declaimed, “Is being accused of being a criminal every time I go into my bank.” For his view is that, by asking impertinent questions about his money, his bank is saying that he is a criminal and is therefore required to explain himself.
While our poor hostess tried to distract us with chocolate mousse, he then told the story of when he was travelling through Europe as a young adult, wearing old clothes, a full beard and a long Afro, and transport police in the Netherlands stopped him and questioned him. “Why me?” he asked, and they showed him a sheet of photos of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang – at the time, Germany’s most notorious urban guerrilla group. “I looked like all of them,” he admitted. “Even the women.” So, I asked, was that not justification for the police stopping you? “No: they should have been certain that I was a member of the group before taking away my liberties and asking rude questions.” So MLROs, take note: you should not do due diligence on anyone until you are certain that they are criminal. And of course once criminals know that this is the case, doing any due diligence at all could well count as tipping off. Bags I not write the handbook on how that could work. And next time anyone asks me at a dinner party, I’m going to say that I am a trapeze artist with the circus – much less controversial. And much more spangly.