The Queen's Own Coutts Bank Again in the Spotlight Over Money-Laundering
July 27, 2012 • 9:39AM

The Scotland Sunday Herald's Ian Fraser has put a spotlight on the fact that perhaps, just like HSBC, the Queen's own bank, Coutts, now a subsidiary of the bankrupt Royal Bank of Scotland of LIBOR fame, still has something to hide. The latest indication of this, Fraser pointed out in his July 22 bombshell article, is its cancellation of an employment contract for Martin Woods, the famed whistleblower and former anti-money- laundering compliance officer of Wachovia's London office, who had earlier turned over to U.S. authorities, evidence of Wachovia's massive narcotics money-laundering services for the Mexican cocaine cartels. Woods is also a former U.K. National Crime Squad Detective.

Several days after the July 17 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (SPSI) hearing on HSBC, Woods filed suit against RBS's Coutts, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, seen as part of the efforts in the U.K. to increase the pressure for Glass-Steagall. Rowland Bosworth-Davies, a former Scotland Yard Fraud Squad detective, told Fraser that, "To be a successful money-laundering reporting officer (MLRO) these days, you have to know which questions not to ask." Davies explained that the banks don't want MLRO's with the skills, experience, or the independent knowledge which will enable them to stand up to their banker-employers.

Indeed, in March, Coutts was fined by the UK Financial Services Authority for money-laundering violations, and was ordered to step up its efforts to prevent drug kingpins, criminals, and terrorists from using Coutts to clean their money. This action made headlines around the world, along the lines that the Queen's own bank was suspected in drug-money laundering.

"In today's climate everyone from Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King down, is calling for radical change in the culture of banking," Woods said, adding that "the episode suggests that Coutts has absolutely no intention of changing its culture." He emphasized that drug-money-laundering bankers themselves are never held accountable, and "no one ever goes to jail."

What the Woods/Coutts case portends, is that if politicians take action, a network of active and former police officials, possessing vital intelligence, can come forward, as the effort behind the U.S. Senate probe of HSBC has shown. As Woods noted (as quoted in the London Guardian on July 21), "People don't like to ask how close the banker's finger is to the trigger of the killer's gun."