In recent weeks there has been a huge amount of soul-searching and hand-wringing about money. Much of it has concerned the slippery distinctions between tax evasion, tax avoidance and aggressive tax avoidance, with phrases like “morally repugnant” being bandied about (followed swiftly by accusations of hypocrisy and elitism). We all – barring perhaps a few hermits and maybe the Dalai Lama – have a vexed relationship with money, with our attitudes forged early in life as we either mirror or rebel against the attitudes of our parents. My parents were both poor as children and made good later, but always retained a care with and great respect for money. Brought up in an affluent household, I nonetheless imbibed their concern that it might all disappear one day, and as a result I am a saver of epic proportions and am rather sniffy about people who are profligate with money. In her excellent “Point of View” a couple of Sundays ago, the author Sarah Dunant explained her own “conflicted” relationship with money.
But interesting though this all is – and personally I’m fascinated to see what anti-avoidance measures will look like (it’s a bit like trying do something about those big holes that some people create in their earlobes: most people don’t like them, and indeed they can make you feel a bit squeamish when you look at them, but as they’re not actually illegal, it’s live and let live) – we in the AML community must not lose sight of the simple definition at the heart of all that we do. Money laundering is perpetrated on – and confined to – the proceeds of crime. And proceeds of crime are generated by criminal acts. So we might find the sale of fur coats or abortions or sexual favours to be morally repugnant, but that’s nothing to do with our job. Our job is to look out for, prevent and react to money laundering – we are slaves to the legislation. We can campaign and activate and vote for change as we wish, but our AML duties are (mercifully) clear.