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Moneyland by Oliver Bullough

Philip Fisher reviews a timely book for accountants, following the intelligence committee revelations about Russia.

22nd Jul 2020
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Moneyland

One of the consequences of the pandemic lockdown is an opportunity to spend more time at home and catch up on those movies and books that have been piled up for ages.

Moneyland is subtitled “Why thieves & crooks now rule the world & how to take it back”, which should be enough of a tempter for most prospective purchasers.

It becomes far more tempting in the wake of the revelations about Russian oligarchs and, possibly that country’s government, insidiously working their way into the upper echelons of British society, challenging our legal, financial and political systems.

The book should be compulsory reading for every accountant, since not only are many of the chapters shockingly entertaining but its depiction of wrongdoing in the world of finance is of relevance to our work.

These days, as compliance begins to overwhelm the day job, one of the most important areas for any accountant is the recognition of his or her obligations under money laundering and associated legislation.

Thanks to the skills of Oliver Bullough as an investigative journalist and the willingness of whistle-blowers to inform him of malpractice, readers can discover a great deal about the ways in which money can be hidden, tax avoided or more usually evaded and, it follows, situations in which we might need to be suspicious about the activities of our clients.

It is also an object lesson in how powerful the mythical country of Moneyland, as it has been christened by the author, has become.

Make no mistake, Moneyland has great influence and, some might argue, can stand toe to toe with the governments of many countries and come out victorious.

The chapters detailing the champagne lifestyles enjoyed by the superrich might not appeal to everyone but they only comprise a small part of this book.

Far more significant are the detailed investigations into the ways in which many offshore territories have become not only tax havens but also shelters for the proceeds of crime.

The history is equally fascinating, as readers will discover the seeds of the secret finance industry, which has much to do with the efforts of our own dear country to protect the City of London after the war.

As we all know, former and current British protectorates also rely heavily on their ability to shelter money that often comes in dubious sources, either to assist criminals or help those who prefer not to pay the taxes that are due in their home countries.

One of the pleasures of reading chapter after chapter retelling stories of bad behaviour is to discover where one’s own tolerance finally gives out.

Most are unlikely to have a problem with the victims of the Nazis hiding their funds overseas. Others might well recognise that if you come from a country where the legal authorities are weak, it may be good practice to store your wealth somewhere safe.

The idea of bearing a surrogate child as a means of avoiding inheritance taxes could be pushing things a little too far for most tastes, while hearing stories of the leaders of states taking bribes or blatantly stealing from their starving citizens will surely turn almost every stomach.

However, much of what goes on lies somewhere in between these extremes. High finance can easily bleed over into something that doesn’t smell quite so much of roses and it is instructive that a number of leading Swiss banks have found themselves in the manure at very great cost.

While cinemas, restaurants and football grounds are closed, this is an opportunity to seek other forms of entertainment and Moneyland should definitely find a place on every thinking accountant’s book pile.

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