The other week I was watching Scandi-noir series “The Bridge”. (Have you see it? Tip-top and marvellous in every dimension – you won’t think or talk about anything else until you find out whodunnit. And I’m not saying that just because I love police detectives. Although I do – you know I do.) Anyhoo, the first murder in the series is committed (and this isn’t much of a spoiler, as you get this info in episode one) in order to demonstrate that we are not all equal under the law. In the context of “The Bridge” (and lovely, bumbling but jolly clever Danish detective Martin Rohde – mmmmm) I am willing to accept that this is generally a Bad Thing. But in the context of money laundering, I am not so sure.
In most jurisdictions, there are five money laundering offences (concealing, assisting/arrangements, acquiring, tipping off and failure to disclose), with penalties ranging from two to fourteen years. With the exception of failure to disclose, the offences apply equally to all adults – to librarians and lawyers, to barbers and bankers, to architects and accountants, and indeed to the unemployed and politicians. But is this fair? If someone is employed in the regulated sector (my own loose term to indicate all businesses covered by the Money Laundering Regulations or other local equivalent), shouldn’t it be understood that they (thanks to the marvels of AML training and procedures) will be much more aware of the dangers and indicators of criminal money? And if so, doesn’t this mean that when they do indulge in money laundering, it is much worse? Why should we expect a taxi driver, say, to be as aware of the likelihood of his cash-intensive business being used by criminals to launder their money as a banker would (or indeed should) be?
Ah, you say, but that’s what mitigation and aggravation are all about: when someone is found guilty of money laundering, their profession will be thrown into the mix and taken into account, to lessen or increase their sentence. And so you fall into my bear-trap. For my suggestion is this: a two-tier set of offences, with accompanying varied penalties. There could be “Concealing: regulated sector” [fourteen years] and “Concealing: everyone else” [ten years]. After all, if you work in the regulated sector you have assumed a position of trust with regard to other people’s money – and if you betray that trust, surely that is worse than if an ordinary person abuses the financial system. Of course, I do recognise that there might have to be a third category, for people like me: “Concealing: not regulated sector, but has been exposed to them for so long that really ought to know better and has no excuse, frankly” [twenty years].