In my spare time I think about financial crime, because I am the author of a series of historical financial crime novels set in London in the 1820s. When I tried to interest publishers in the first in the series, “Fatal Forgery”, I was told that no-one is interested in financial crime, and that the plot – concerning [the true story of] a banker who stole from his own customers – could not happen these days. To these publishers, may I now say HAH! And you can’t see it, but I’m sticking my tongue out too. For what have we here, but a banker and five other “financiers” who (says the judge) sold their souls for swag and bling, and diddled small business customers of HBOS out of £245 million.
When you see pictures of the six criminals, you are struck by how ordinary they look – no horns or forked tails. They simply used the fact that most people rely on those in positions of authority and expertise to guide them through unfamiliar territory; “my” historical banker took advantage of the new innovation called share certificates (what? I don’t have a stack of gold in the bank’s vault, but just a piece of paper?), while this sextet convinced bank customers that their best course of action was to entrust their businesses to a turnaround consultancy – which turned around their honest money into fancy yachts, luxury holidays and sex parties.
Of course, one major difference is that in the 1820s my constable narrator never uttered the words “money laundering”. The world was still very cash-based – even banknotes were something of an innovation – and the investigation of crime was in its infancy, so there was little need for criminals to do anything to disguise their money. Today I am delighted to see that the “HBOS six” sentences all included a nice little uplift for money laundering. Mind you, in the 1820s any conviction for an offence of dishonesty led pretty sharpish to the scaffold – more of a dropdown than an uplift.