I’ve just come back from a mini-break in Berlin – my first visit. While I was there I went to the Stasi Museum, which is in the building where the actual HQ of the East German Ministry for State Security was located until its demise in 1989. It’s a creepy place, and when the ticket seller was incredibly rude to me I did wonder whether they were offering performance art for the complete Stasi experience. The whole point of the Stasi was to watch people – to spy on the population, mainly through a vast network of citizens turned informants, and to fight any opposition by overt and covert measures, including the hidden psychological destruction of dissidents. Nasty business, and it’s been preying on my mind.
When I got home, I found that the Guernsey courts had waited for my absence to send three chaps to prison for money laundering. You can read the full gories here and here, but in short a man working for a local firm as a financial administrator pilfered £542,555 from his employer and used it to jet about the place and buy such luxuries as a hot tub, two cars and a telly the size of my dining table. The laundering charges came about because he paid the stolen money into his own bank account, and also into accounts held by two friends.
So how to link this to the Stasi? Well, I think they represent two ends of the spectrum. At one end is scary over-surveillance, and at the other wilful blindness. Lee Nolan, the thief, was on a salary of £26,000. He generously took seventeen (seventeen!) friends on holiday to Ibiza, and flew business class with another two to New York. Did not one of those friends question where the money was coming from? Did no-one take him aside and say, “Listen, Lee, old bean – you’re spending a bit lavishly here. Is there something we should know?” No-one likes to think badly of a friend, but if people are so willing to turn a blind eye to a situation whose only explanation is criminal, then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that AML is seen by the population at large as an intrusion and an inconvenience rather than a sensible reaction to a very real danger.