I try to keep up with it all, I really do, but there is just too much serious financial naughtiness for me to track everything. So thank goodness for the Economist, and its recent story on corruption in Catalonia. The former leader of the independence-seeking Convergence and Union group, Jordi Pujol, has recently admitted that he and his family have been salting away money in Switzerland for 35 years. There is no suggestion – yet – that this money is the proceeds of political corruption, but rather it seems to be from tax evasion. Señor Pujol’s explanation was that “we never found the right moment to declare it”. How about annually, on your tax return, like everyone else? The Economist is not slow to spot the particular irony of the situation: “The battle cry of the independence campaign is that the rest of Spain steals Catalan taxes and wastes them on lazy southerners. Now Mr Pujol himself has been found hiding his own stash of cash.” And it’s not just the man himself: his son Jordi is to appear in court next month to answer questions about tax fraud and money laundering (a girlfriend says that he would tote bags of €500 notes to Andorra), and another son Oriol is suspected of taking bribes while in political office.
[A small side issue comes to mind: are Catalonian politicians considered PEPs in Spain, or are they domestic – given that Catalonia desires but has not achieved independence?]
I have written many times before about financial misdoings by those in power, and about how such activity tends to run in families – nothing earth-shattering about this observation, which is so accepted that we enshrine it in our PEP definition (“and their families and close associates…”). But, playing devil’s advocate for moment, are we on a hiding to nothing by trying to legislate against human nature? It is one of the most basic human – indeed animal – instincts to provide for one’s own genetic package (i.e. children) before others, and if necessary at the expense of others. As explained in this BBC article, male lions who take over a pride will often kill the existing cubs, in order to ensure that their own potential offspring will have the best chance of survival and dominance. (And in case you’re feeling smug, ladies, the females do it too: female rats will eat the babies of others for sustenance, and then take over the vacated nest as well.) And in the human arena, there is the (admittedly controversial) Cinderella effect – a theory of evolutionary psychology that states that adults are much more likely to abuse or other wise harm their stepchildren than their genetic offspring. The thinking is that we have so many calls on our time – survival, reproduction, raising children – that we have to decide where to spend our energy, and investment in non-genetic children reduces our ability to invest in ourselves or our genetic children without directly bringing reproductive benefits.
So if we’re evolutionarily programmed to protect our own family situation, how realistic it is to expect someone who is put into a position where they have access to public money, or access to a situation that enables them to evade tax and so conserve their family resources for their own use, not to take advantage of that in order to favour their own children? After all, if the desire to protect and promote one’s own offspring can lead to the neglect, abuse and even murder of others, then why should we be surprised if it leads to a more distant harm, e.g. siphoning money intended for a public hospital into a private pocket? Perhaps the route to success is to prevent PEPs having the opportunity to be corrupt, rather than being outraged when they are. Now, how to do that?