My 79-year-old mother, gladdened by the birth of her first granddaughter in February, decided to help little Kyria along by buying her a Children’s Bonus Bond as an investment in her future. My mum’s sister-in-law, of a similar age, kindly offered to chip in; together they put up £300 and sent off a cheque to the National Savings.
The National Savings asked her to prove who the baby girl was. Or rather, since Kyria was too young to be laundering money herself, required instead that her parent – me – provide proof of identity. They sent a list of documents for me to produce: I followed their instructions to the letter, and mailed them a recent statement from my British bank, along with copies of my passport and driving licence verified by my boss, who, like my mother, my aunt, myself, and Kyria, is a British citizen, from birth, with no criminal record.
Apparently this wasn’t enough. Nearly a month later I received a letter from the National Savings, requiring not only me but my (American) wife to produce a further set of documents. These were to include a five-digit UK tax number (I’ve paid tax in the UK and never heard of this; Allison has never done so, and so was required instead to produce evidence of her date and place of birth). They were also to include letters for each of us from the income tax authorities of the United Arab Emirates (which has no income tax) and copies of our passports. These papers needed to be verified by our respective embassies. I did a bit of research and discovered that, quite apart from the several hours of our busy time wasted in getting to and from these locations and waiting in line (with screaming kids, in Allison’s case), this verification process would cost us about £60, or a fifth of the value of the bond my mother was proposing to buy (even without allowing for inflation, it would take us five years, at the interest rate on offer, to make back this sum). And all this was to be done, dusted, and back on their desks in Glasgow in less than three weeks.
No doubt the Mr. Bigs of the money-laundering world will find ways around, under, or through these regulations: forgery, placemen, front organizations. Little Kyria and her gran, though, can’t really afford to chuck away 60 quid feeding the paperwork monsters of the British regulatory system. How difficult do the authorities want to make it for a couple of old ladies to buy a modest nest egg for a newborn? And what are they supposed to do with the money instead – stuff it under the mattress?
I told this story to a colleague, and she sized it up neatly: the terrorists have won.