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The Moneypenny family has decamped to France to swap 30-degree heat in south Oxfordshire for 30-degree heat in St Tropez. On the eve of departure there was considerable heat in the Moneypenny marriage as well, fuelled not by passion but by the news delivered by Mr M that he was not, after all, going to share the 900-mile drive with me. No, he was going to have to stay at work for another day to attend to the pressing problem of the allocation of the 2005 en primeur Bordeaux to his clients, and would then hop on the train.
I was somewhat stressed and, after overnighting halfway, managed to leave all my documentation about our rented villa in a hotel room somewhere south of Dijon. Realising this halfway between Lyons and Marseilles, I stopped and used my BlackBerry to look up the website of the letting agent. I find using the internet on a BlackBerry impossibly fiddly and only do so in emergencies. I found the browser defaulting to the website Moneypenny emergencies tend to call for: www.baggygreen.co.au. This is the main website for obtaining Australian cricket scores (Mr M being a native).
Australia, of course, has had rather better fortune than England recently in the arena of sport. An Australian golfer won the US Open, an Australian horse wiped the bookies clean by winning an important race at Ascot. Even the football team made it beyond the group stage of the World Cup. Plus the rugby team has been comprehensively trashing the English one. I am a great believer in the principle of comparative advantage. As they are clearly better at sport than we are, why not outsource our sport? We could kit out all their second-level sportsmen, the ones who don’t get picked for Australia, in England colours and send them out to represent us in tennis, football, cricket and so forth. They couldn’t do any worse than the lot we have at present, and once they have started winning, I doubt anyone in England would kick up too much of a fuss.
My enthusiasm for outsourcing appears to be shared by UK regulatory authorities. Even in St Tropez, the debate about the so-called “NatWest Three” (three former NatWest employees who are, at the time of writing, scheduled to be extradited to the US to face charges in relation to alleged dodgy dealings with Enron, the collapsed energy company which has become a byword for corporate excess and corruption) has reached the local papers. By the time this column is printed, they are expected to have been sent back to the US to face trial.
The common theme seems to be that it is heinous for the extradition treaty to allow the US authorities to extradite the Three to face trial in the US, especially since the treaty, which was passed to assist with the action against terrorism in the wake of 9/11, allows the US to extradite from Britain without the usual rigmarole of showing a prima facie case, but not vice versa. Also, no action is being taken against the Three by the UK authorities even though the victim of this alleged crime is probably the Royal Bank of Scotland, now owner of NatWest.
Instead of getting worked up about a US court dealing with what is, on the face of it, an alleged crime that is totally British, perhaps we should look at this from a different perspective. After all, the US appears to be much better than the UK at dealing with crime. Between 1990 and 2005, for example, murder and robbery in New York City fell by 76 per cent, rape by 48 per cent, burglary by 80 per cent and car crime by 88 per cent. Admittedly there are 724 people per 100,000 in jail in the US, and only 144 per 100,000 in England and Wales, but that suggests they have been better than most at finding and dealing with the perpetrators of crime.
Even in white-collar crime, the US track record at banging people up seems to be better than ours. Martha Stewart and Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom can attest to that, as no doubt would Kenneth Lay of Enron had he not died of heart failure while waiting to be sentenced. We, on the other hand, have rarely seen the FSA secure a conviction.
So, if the Americans want to try our white-collar crime at their taxpayers’ expense, why are we complaining? Sounds like a bargain to me. Indeed, while we are at it, why outsource white-collar crime prosecutions, just to the US? Why not Singapore, where they have an equally impressive track record (remember Nick Leeson)? Or Saudi Arabia, where there is a wider range of sentencing options? As with my sport suggestions, once the system started working and convictions were obtained, I doubt that anyone would kick up too much of a fuss. Personally, I would outsource everything, even the task of driving 900 miles from south Oxfordshire to St Tropez.
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