One of the difficulties of running a specialist, one-person business is providing relevant training for the staff – i.e. me. If an AML conference looks particularly ground-breaking I will sign up, but many of them go over (what is to me) familiar ground, often with speakers who are trying to sell products and services to MLROs. (And this is fine if you are an MLRO – you get information and in exchange you listen to a sales pitch – but is rather pointless for me.) In a bid to keep my own knowledge current, and to exercise the little grey cells, I have recently signed up for my very first course with FutureLearn, an online distributor of free (yes, free) training courses in a wide range of subjects. I’m not sure how they make their money – although you can pay for a certificate at the end of the course, if you want one – but the quality of the training I have seen so far is excellent.
My course is called “Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime” (come on: you knew there would be a money laundering angle somewhere – although, with my fondness for their magnificent cycle routes, I was quite tempted by the “Introduction to Dutch” course). And it’s been a while since I read any criminology, so I have been particularly enjoying making links in my mind between the money side of the illicit trade in art and antiquities, and the more familiar money laundering of my day job.
For instance, we have just been learning about “techniques of neutralisation” – ways in which criminals justify to themselves what they are doing, in an attempt to neutralise their criminality. The FutureLearn course looked at the motives of dealers in looted antiquities, but in my own work I am aware of similar techniques being used by both money launderers and those in the regulated sector who choose to ignore AML procedures. The five techniques of neutralisation initially postulated by American criminologists David Matza and Gresham Sykes in the 19502 are these:
- Denial of responsibility: the offender proposes that he was a victim of circumstance or forced into situations beyond his control (“It wasn’t my fault”)
- Denial of injury: the offender insists that his actions did not cause any harm or damage (“It wasn’t a big deal – they could afford the loss”)
- Denial of the victim: the offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed (“They had it coming”)
- Condemnation of the condemners: the offender maintains that those who condemn his offence are doing so purely out of spite, or are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly (“You were just as bad in your day”)
- Appeal to higher loyalties: the offender suggests that his offence was for the greater good, with long term consequences that would justify his actions (“My friends needed me – what was I supposed to do?”).
It is not unusual to hear similar justifications today: all they did was make an inflated insurance claim, and heaven knows the insurance company can afford it; why should I spend hours on EDD when my boss takes on clients without thinking about it; if the government is going to waste money on defence, who can blame me for not paying tax; I would have reported the client but I was too busy; if I had turned down that business my team would have missed its sales target, and my colleagues needed their bonuses. And now I know what to call them: techniques of neutralisation.