Caspian and the team had a fantastic evening hosting the first ever Dark Money Files Live event in the North East on Thursday 27 February to packed room at Baltic Centre, Gatehead. Originating from the ever-popular podcast, the live format event has sold out multiple events in London but this was the first time that founders Graham Barrow and Ray Blake had taken the event outside of the capital.
Their expertise and humour were warmly welcomed on Tyneside as they shared their tales of ‘Dark Money’ that flows through our financial systems. Graham and Ray are two of the most respected financial crime experts internationally who colourfully (yet seriously) bring to life the issues linked to money-laundering that in many cases are happening right under our noses – a point made all the more potent by a very local reference to money-laundering connections (more about that later).
The fascinating thing that Graham and Ray highlight at the beginning of the event is that Dark Money files content (podcast or live event) is pieced together solely from publicly available data. By acquiring insights from sources including Companies House, OCCRP and even Google Street View, they highlighted several eye-opening examples on the evening of the kind of suspicious conduct that may be occurring within UK financial systems on a significant scale.
Nearly 100 people were in attendance on the night which confirmed the countrywide demand from audiences keen to immerse themselves in the globally challenging topic of financial crime. With attendees from across the UK and North East region, several sectors were well represented including financial services, big 4 consultants, fintech and academia.
The nights subject, ‘The Crimes and Misdemeanours of the Rich and Famous’, shone a light on the activities of several individuals and companies who have previously been directly named in some of the world’s biggest and most recent money laundering scandals – not least among them, Victor Yanukovych, former President of Ukraine who fled the country following the popular uprising in 2014.
There was also a focus on the poor legislation that governs LLP company registrations in the UK and continues to enable people or businesses previously named in money laundering activity to be remain active as part of UK registered company activities. Although it was highlighted that fault does not lie with Companies House people themselves (who are apparently very nice people), it demonstrates the lack of resource and mandate to proactively interrogate registrations and their activities.
A delve into some of the Companies House accounts records of businesses in the spotlight identified shocking inconsistencies in the financial values quoted in officially submitted accounts as compared to publicly available financial trading records. Even more astounding is that said accounts often all carry the same signatory – in this case an individual by the name of Ali Moulaye (and variations) who has featured previously on this blog.
The story on the evening took in an eclectic journey through a mix of notable names and destinations from Danske Bank, The Eurovision Song Contest and Heartbreak Hotel to the international jurisdictions of Nevis and Marshall Islands. The biggest shock of the night for the audience however was the identification of a small flat in the Shieldfield neighbourhood of Newcastle upon Tyne that is home to 89 UK registered companies; several of whom have directors and holding companies publicly named in recent money laundering scandals.
A Q&A session wrapped up the official Dark Money Files section of the night and confirmed both the extensive knowledge and engagement of the audience. 20 minutes went by very quickly with questions relating to Companies House governance, SOCA and of course how much more was known about the people behind the companies registered in Shieldfield! Conversations carried on over a few more drinks for an hour or so afterwards!
Notable attendees included Chi Onwurah MP as part of her Shadow Minister Digital responsibilities, who talked to the Caspian team about her thoughts on growing the Fintech sector in the North East and the recognition of financial expertise that already exists in the region.
Dawn Dunn of Dynamo North East supported and attended the event as part of the excellent wider regional programme of support that Dynamo provide towards growing the North East IT Economy which includes several FinTech business members who joined on the night.
It was also great to welcome several attendees from across the UK, including John Cusack, Editor in Chief of The Financial Crime News and ex Chair of Wolfsberg Group which aims to develop frameworks and guidance for the management of financial crime risks.
An overall fascinating and well enjoyed evening, which brought surprises as well as sobering evidence to support the fact that global financial crime remains one of the biggest challenges for everyone who works and supports the financial services sector and beyond.
The official press release is available here.