I ma probably the last person in the AML world to watch this, but I have finally got around to viewing the most recent episode of “Panorama” – entitled “Undercover: How to Dodge Tax”. According to the programme blurb: “Panorama goes undercover to investigate corporate service providers – the people and companies who sell corporate anonymity and access to offshore tax havens. Undercover reporters discover a world that specialises in secrecy, sells services which bend and breach UK law, is happy to help tax dodgers and even turns a blind eye to crime.”
I’d like to say that it is shocking – but frankly, it isn’t. It is interesting to see the theory played out in practice – for years, those of us in AML have been warning that companies are not what they seem, and that nominee directors are risky business – but it is more dispiriting than shocking. The offices of the company services providers are all so dismal – so heaven only knows where their profits go. (Or is there a second layer of laundering, where those who make illegal profits from setting up dodgy companies for criminals then go to someone else to set up dodgy companies for them?) The attitudes are so familiar – with smug administrators (can you tell that I’m getting angry?) thinking that they have the right to second-guess the legislation: “I’m OK with tax evasion and overseas corruption, but I’m not going to do money laundering.” Hello? Have they even understood the concept of money laundering?
Saddest of all is the outcome. When confronted, all of those who had – as plain as the nose on your face – said that they were willing to sidestep the ML Regulations and help to launder the proceeds of crime, took refuge in the usual mealy-mouthed platitudes about taking their regulatory obligations seriously, and thinking that the discussions were preliminary only. And when asked to contribute their comments to the programme, HMRC said no. I know they’re overworked, underpaid and unloved, but wouldn’t this be a quick win? As Tristram Hicks says, it wasn’t hard to find these crooked TCSPs – just scratch the surface and there they are. And yet not one – not a single one – has been prosecuted for AML failures, or for money laundering. I take it back: it is shocking.