This morning’s post is going to wax rather philosophical, so you should either (a) stop reading now, if you’re not given to such ponderings, or (b) get an extra chocolate biscuit for your elevenses to prolong the ponderings.
It all started last week when a university friend of my husband’s came to dinner. I had not seen the man since 1988, and did my usual potted history of what I do, how I got here, and why I carry on with it. “Isn’t it odd,” he mused, “but twenty years ago I [he’s an engineer] would have had no idea what money laundering was, but now it’s just an accepted phrase and concept.” And he’s right: I used to have to go into quite some detail to explain my line of work, but now “I help people to tackle money laundering” just about does it. But does this mean that there is more money laundering than ever before – and might I (along with everyone else in the AML industry) actually be causing its growth? Are we, through our desire to educate the public about what money laundering is and how it works, helping criminals to get better at it?
Personally, I put money laundering into the same category – for the purpose of this blog only, I should add – as child sexual abuse. A Martian landing on Earth and looking at newspapers for the past few decades would think that something dreadful happened in the 1980s to create child sexual abuse, and indeed money laundering, as they made very rare appearances in the press before then. But of course what actually happened was the criminalisation, and subsequent publicity around the prosecution of, child sexual abuse, and money laundering. Indeed, many people argue that there is less child sexual abuse nowadays than ever before in history because we warn children about it, we provide mechanisms via which they can report it and obtain help, and we punish those involved. We also – in order to warn and protect – publicise all of these responses, and this is what makes it seem as though it’s more prevalent than it used to be. And I think exactly the same is true of money laundering.
Many people tell me – usually with folded arms and an air of triumph – that AML is not working. They say that there is more money laundering now than ever before, and we’re not catching it. I cannot – sadly, as I would love to – offer a statistical rebuttal, but everyone I talk to on the inside (and I mean investigators and regulators, rather than criminals) believes that the system is working. We only think that there is more money laundering because more of it is spotted and publicised – and although we are not catching enough of it, we are catching more and more of it (and immeasurably more than in the days when no-one cared about it, and no-one put pressure on the authorities to make it a priority).
So I am thrilled when I see money laundering in a headline: that’s more publicity, putting criminals on notice that we know how they’re doing it and we’re not going to tolerate it. Onwards and upwards, fellow AML-ers!