Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, by the time you read this I will be heading off on my hols. As befits someone with my particular interests, I am en route to Switzerland – albeit attracted more by its lakes, mountains and (let’s face it) Chocolate Train than by its financial offerings. (Top tip: when doing the tour of the Cailler chocolate factory, take an empty rucksack. Just a suggestion.) So I will not be blogging for a while, as marital discord is threatened if I plan my days around finding a wifi hotspot so that I can blog you lot (like I did last year…) – but I don’t want to leave you bereft. And so I thought it would be appropriate to give you some seasonal stories of how criminals have used the holiday and travel industry to do that nasty laundering.
In March 2013, Italian police broke up a huge fraud and money laundering ring – a joint venture, if you will, between the IRA and the mafia. It is alleged that Harry James Fitzsimons (now on the run somewhere in Africa, and of rather a lot of interest to the police) brokered a deal with the ‘Ndrangheta for them to launder IRA money by investing it in a string of tourist complexes on the stunning Ionian coast of the southern region of Calabria. So if you have a little summer break booked in the Gioiello del Mare holiday village in Brancaleone, or the Sands of Brancaleone resort, you might want to think again – although chances are you’ll be able to get a fine pint of Guinness. The police have sequestered twelve property development companies and seventeen to-let holiday resorts, some of them only half-built, together worth about 450 million euros.
Just a month earlier, in February 2012, the marvellously-named Sammy the Kurd (born Ussama El-Kurd) was jailed for nine years for laundering £170 million through the Kensington Money Exchange in Notting Hill, while his wife and son were jailed for ten months each for turning a blind eye to the activity through their family business. The bureau de change had purchased more than 240 million euros from foreign exchange wholesalers in a little over three years, but could show only £5 million passing though the corporate accounts.
And there is some speculation that ice-cream vans are used extensively by criminals – both to transport their goods (drug, guns, chocolate flakes, etc.) and as a front for laundering (another cash-intensive business – after all, when was the last time you paid for a 99 with your credit card?). We all remember [I should stop saying that – I forget that I’m a bit old now and some of you are really quite young] the Ice-Cream Wars in Glasgow in the 1980s – drug sales, arson and more. Ah, those were the days.
So au reservoir for now, but – in the words of Arnie – I’ll be back (early in July). Bonnes vacances à tout le monde.