Trade fairs are rather on my mind at the moment; my husband went to a bike one last week, my neighbour went to an education one, a friend went to a lingerie one in Paris (steady now) and several of my clients are at ICE (the gaming one) in London this week. Now and then people invite me to speak at these shindigs (the financial crime-related ones – although after nearly thirty years of marital tandem-stoking, I could probably have a bash at a cycling one), and occasionally I do. For someone who works alone in an office above her garage, it’s a glamorous day out – lights, music, and free bags to carry brochures! I assume that manufacturers and service providers find them of use, as otherwise they wouldn’t keep happening. And so I wonder whether that other major industry – money laundering – has its own trade fairs of which we are unaware.
There could be representatives of the major crime families, taking the opportunity to show how successful they are (if you’ve ever represented your organisation at a trade fair, you’ll know that size of stand and glitziness of décor is very important, for cowing the competition) – and trying to seal co-operative arrangements with other families. Although versions vary as to whether it was an actual summit, or simply a series of meetings, over four days in October 1957 representatives of the American and Sicilian mafias got together at a swanky hotel in Palermo to decide how to carve up more profitably and efficiently the world’s trade in heroin. There could be money launderers, large and small, hinting at the range and cleverness of their services, and pricing up the competition. There could be diplomats from particular jurisdictions, offering related services such as passports for investors, and hinting at the laxness of their AML legislation, or their lack of extradition treaties.
Although the vision is perhaps fanciful, we shouldn’t for one moment think that professional money launderers aren’t at least as organised and skilled as we are in researching markets – and chances are they are better at it, with their almost unlimited resources and lack of concern with legislation or even morality. A colleague of mine, many years ago, once spoke at a prestigious financial crime conference and foolishly left his briefcase unattended during a break. When he returned, its lock had been picked, and missing from it was not his wallet or his passport, but his speaker notes and address book – they were after information rather than money.