20141104 What happened to October? Oh, new book and courses information, too

One of the great things about having been, albeit briefly, a criminal defence lawyer is that I’ve heard some pretty stupid defences.

There was the solicitor who, defending his client for drunk driving, said “he remembers leaving the pub and deciding not to drive but somehow he forgot and got in the car anyway.” And some pleas in mitigation are equally stupid, like this one from Teesside Crown Court (where in the Dark Ages I used to sit behind Counsel while working in a solicitor’s office in my school holidays) : “Uzma Khan, defending Ali, said that he had been in desperate need for money, and he also wanted to fulfil a promise he made to his late wife to take the children to Disneyland,” reports the Evening Gazette, the local paper.

But it demonstrates just how many businesses are involved in money laundering. In this case, the defence is that the proceeds of drug dealing by Azhar Ali, 40, who lived in Stockton on Tees but owned a shop in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, would have been spent with a travel agent – exactly the sort of business that those trying to identify persons travelling to join terrorist groups would have to contact. The mitigation is even more stupid when it’s learned that this was the latest in a series of transactions and that, in this case, Ali had handed GBP21,000 in cash to a courier for a drugs delivery. That’s enough for a holiday, surely.

Indeed, according to Land Registry Data, it’s about two thirds of the price of a house in Park Road, where he lives. His advocate continued “he had continued to be a hard-working man and his partner was also working part-time to pay the bills.” “Partner” is not defined but one assumes that it’s a replacement for the “late wife” that he is so determined to honour his promises to.

I used to have great laughs in court. I wasn’t in Snaresbrook Crown Court for one case that has all the hallmarks of urban legend, but I’m assured by someone that he was present. A UK-based barrister of Nigerian origin was late for Court and the trial was delayed. He eventually turned up and explained to the Judge that he was late because he had been watching Nigeria play in the soccer World Cup. Fearing being criticised for racial insensitivity, the Judge was angered but accepted the excuse and instructed the barrister to continue. Until a few minutes later when the Judge interrupted him and said that he seemed to remember that the Nigeria game had been on TV the night before. “Yes,” said the barrister.” But I have it on the tape.”

Some advocates really should not be allowed out: one had little or no aptitude for his task and after every answer he said “Oh, I see.” And then waited for the Stipendiary Magistrate in the Marylebone Magistrate’s Court to ask a question. If none was forthcoming, he would look at his notes and read a question. But if the Stipe did ask a question, the barrister would repeat it and then when he got an answer say “Oh. I see” and the farce would repeat itself. That might have been OK in a cross examination but here it was a bail hearing and the best he had so far offered was the defendant’s mother’s assertions that the defendant was a good boy at home. The Stipe wanted some kind of security for bail. It went like this:

Stipe: “I am thinking of setting bail at five hundred pounds.”

Barrister: “Oh, I see. Mrs X, His Honour is thinking of setting bail at five hundred pounds.”

[The woman nods, says nothing]

Barrister: “Do you understand?”

Woman: “Yes”

Barrister: “Oh, I see. She understands, Your Honour.”

Stipe:”It’s “your worship”, not your honour. You will have to agree to pay to the court five hundred pounds if your son does not come to the next hearing.”

Barrister: “Oh, I see. You will have to agree to pay to the court five hundred pounds if your son does not come to the next hearing.”

[The woman nods, says nothing]

Barrister: “Oh, I see.”

Stipe:”I don’t. Does your client understand that she must pay five hundred pounds if he does not turn up?”

Barrister: “Oh, I see. Do you understand that you must pay five hundred pounds if he does not turn up?”

[The woman nods, says nothing]

“Oh, I see. She says she does, Your Honour.”

Stipe: “It’s Your Worship or Sir, it’s not Your Honour. I’m a magistrate not a judge. She didn’t say anything. The clerk cannot record a nod.”

Barrister: “Oh, I see. Can you tell His Honour that you understand”

Woman: “I understand.”

Barrister: “Oh, I see.”

The barrister looked at the Stipe, the Stipe stared back and eventually asked his next question.

Stipe: “Does she have five hundred pounds?”

Barrister: Oh, I see. Do you have five hundred pounds?”

Woman: “No, Sir.”

Barrister: “Oh, I see.” The barrister stood, saying nothing. The Stipe waited. And waited. He asked his next question.

Stipe: “Then if her son doesn’t come to court, how will she pay the five hundred pounds?”

Barrister: “Oh, I see. If your son doesn’t come to court, how will she, I mean you, pay the five hundred pounds?”

Woman: “God will provide.”

Barrister: Oh, I see. God will provide, Your Honour.”

I could go on, but as you might imagine, by this time there was so much laughter in the court and the Stipe was becoming so exasperated that to continue would be to over-egg the pudding.

There are times I miss sitting at the back of the court laughing at the appalling levels of advocacy and the ridiculous things advocates say just to say something. It would often be better to say nothing than to make puerile excuses.

Which brings me to October. I’ve no idea what happened to it. I’ve looked back over my achievements for the month and largely they amount to not much. Sure, I’ve written a big chunk of the new book and that needs quite a lot of research and I’ve written some stuff for Reuters, confirmed I’m speaking at the Asian Banker Conference in Singapore next week (really, so soon) and then heading off to the UK (reminder to self: send out final booking notices re courses in London, Dublin, Dubai and Bahrain) and started discussions about a couple of things to do in Africa (scary) and nearer home. And I’ve spent a few hours with my son (https://www.instagram.com/james.yangyongcong/?hl=en) who was doing a mini-tour of Malaysia and spent a night just down the road from my place in KL. I’ve re-arranged the furniture and, with help, at last sorted out my study so it’s not just piles of paper waist high and I’ve made some design decisions for my kitchen.

But all in all, from the perspective of work productivity, it’s been rather poor. So, I suppose I’ll just mark it down as holiday and be thankful I had a nice time in that most pleasant of resorts, stop-at-home.

Talking of the new book, Cleaning up the ‘Net, it’s coming along nicely. It started with quite a narrow ambit, looking at how some businesses benefit from providing internet services to criminals. But it soon developed beyond that, to look at wider issues of how the internet is managed (or not, as it turns out) and how that lack of structure provides criminals with great opportunity. So in addition to looking at how financial services businesses are exposed to laundering by businesses that do business with criminals, I also looked at issues that make due diligence difficult where internet businesses are concerned and that linked into the entire question of how the internet is structured and whether it is possible to adopt measures to re-structure it so as to convert an anarchic environment one which can create a degree of control.

I took a sideways leap: if we could control (at least to a degree) money laundering by managing information, surely we could apply information protocols to the use of the internet for crime. The simple answer is, yes, we can.

The more complex and fully reasoned answer, with an explanation, is yes, we can – read the book when it’s out, soon.

It’s interesting that, today, there is news that the new head of the UK’s GCHQ which monitors communications says that social media such as twitter and Facebook are the tools of choice for terrorists, a point that the book makes strongly – and so does its blurb.

It’s nice to be on the same page as the boss of a UK Government Agency. Perhaps he and I should discuss our respective strategies: the thing is, I can prove that, if there is the political will, mine will work. I very much doubt he can do that, in part because he will have to cope with a lack of political will.

The final leg of the “Identifying Suspicion” lecture tour starts in London in mid November and goes onto Dublin then onto Dubai and Bahrain at the end of the month. Book now, it’s almost too late.

© 2014 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
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