It’s an old joke – “I’ve been married for twenty years; you get less for murder” – but in the UK, at least, that’s true. According to reputable research, the average sentence for a murderer in the UK is sixteen years. That’s only two years more than the maximum allowable sentence for money laundering, which tells us how seriously this particular crime is viewed. And rightly so, in my humble (and perhaps rather biased) opinion, as money laundering is the enabling crime for all acquisitive crime: people wouldn’t pinch if they couldn’t launder. But the prison sentence is only the start…
If you have a conviction for a serious financial crime on your record – and money laundering is up there at the top of the list, alongside stealing money from Grenfell victims in order to buy yourself a green dress and a ticket on the Thames Clipper – the fall-out will last for the rest of your life. For a start, you will find yourself barred from various career options – and not just in the financial sector. Linda Aldworth, a nurse in Rotorua in New Zealand, was found guilty in 2016 of laundering NZ$340,000 [about £173,000] for her prisoner husband, and last month the New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal decided that she cannot return to work – despite a forty-year unblemished professional record – because her offending had been “so serious and sustained” and “her misconduct goes to the heart of the practitioner’s integrity”. Her nursing registration has been cancelled, her house has been sold to repay the victims of her husband’s crimes, and she is now living with her daughter and working in a hotel kitchen.
A money laundering conviction could also put a crimp in your travel plans. For instance, if you “have ever been arrested, cautioned or convicted”, you cannot apply under the (quick and cheap) Visa Waiver Program to gain access to the US but instead have to apply for a visa – which entails a rather intense face-to-face interview at a US embassy and a substantial fee, and no guarantee at all of success.
Finally, there is a joy of having to declare your financial misdoings every time you apply for a financial service, such as a bank account, or a loan, or a mortgage. And let’s be honest, many institutions are going to find it easier to say no than to think of reasons why they should take a chance on someone who has already shown their willingness to play fast and loose with other people’s money. If you can’t get a job, a mortgage or a holiday, frankly, those fourteen years in prison will start to look rather attractive by comparison.