There can be few of you who don’t know that I am mad about cycling. It started out as a devious plot, to convince the chap I fancied (now husband) that I was really interested in his hobby, and then it morphed into genuine fascination. In the 1980s, most of our summer holidays were spent stalking the Tour de France around Europe, and one of my finest boasts is that I have touched the bottom (fully clothed, both of us – he was labouring up a mountain) of Eros Poli. (Ladies, if you look here you will see why I remember it so fondly.)
So it was with great sadness (but very little surprise) that I watched the Lance Armstrong scandal unfold. In short, the American rider won seven consecutive Tours de France, after beating cancer, and claimed to have done it clean. Anyone who suggested otherwise was bullied, abused and threatened – careers were ruined, to say nothing of the anguish of cyclists who should have won events that Armstrong “won”. And now he has finally admitted that he was cheating throughout – either taking performance-enhancing drugs, or blood-doping (taking out his own blood when on top form, and putting it back in when in need of a boost). Me? I’m spitting chips, and I want my money back for the three books about Armstrong that I bought. “It’s All About the Bike” – phooey!
So how to bring this back to money laundering? Well, it’s obviously the most enormous failure of compliance – both legal and moral. The rules of professional cycling say that you must ride clean, and the morality of sport suggests that you should too. Armstrong has claimed that he only did what every other rider was doing, that he wasn’t actually cheating because cheating is getting an unfair advantage. This argument can be – and indeed has been – applied to almost any bad behaviour. Including money laundering. You’ve all heard the excuse: “If we don’t take it, someone else will”. It’s a race to the bottom (Eros Poli jokes aside): if one employee or one institution or one sector or one jurisdiction is prepared to ignore the rules, it makes it harder to everyone else to do the right thing.
And it took so long to catch him. Seven consecutive wins – it’s hard to convey just how outstanding that is, and just how weird. Rumours were there for years, and testing was in place, but one rider determined at all costs to win was able to evade the controls. Criminals likewise are determined at all costs – including murder – to make a profit, but we must make sure that our controls are strong enough (and our staff brave and equipped enough) to catch them. The people are the key. Those who spoke out against Armstrong had a really rough time; he accused his masseuse of being an alcoholic prostitute in order to discredit her, and had a team-mate sacked and called his wife a “crazy bitch” when they said that he was doping. The fate of the whistleblower has never been pretty, and yet they remain our best possible route for uncovering wrongdoing. Do your staff know who to tell if they suspect a colleague of not following procedures, or of being under the control of criminals? More will doubtless surface about Armstrong and his crimes, but perhaps we can take comfort from one small lesson: the truth will out. But at what cost along the way?