Two stories which in hindsight are the highlights of my past six months at POLITICO:
- Money laundering on the high street looks at how cash transfer and foreign exchange shops in London have become a haven for drugs money and gang activity. These shops are not as tightly-regulated as other financial companies, and they provide a lifeline for many of people around the world who depend on the income of their relatives and friends in the UK. According to police sources, organized crime gangs have infiltrated the sector, meaning that already put-upon communities are now being drawn, often unwittingly, into elaborate money laundering schemes. The state (National Crime Agency, Met Police, financial regulators and the government) is aware of the problem and trying to solve it, representatives said, but the situation is complex — an overstretched public sector and criminal justice system, decentralised financial regulation enforcement, loopholes, overlapping guidelines, and vested corporate interests preventing progress.
- Digging into the Remainers’ dirty secret: for this story I went undercover with the BBC to find out how migrant labourers are exploited in the largely unregulated home improvement sector. Hundreds of small construction companies provide cheap home extensions for London’s socially climbing middle classes, but what you don’t see in the glossy real estate brochures are the horrendous risks workers take for jobs that are paid by the day, cash in hand, below minimum wage, and often without safety gear, health insurance or even basics such as a working toilet. Local authorities are rarely visiting these sites to verify compliance with the few rules that do exist, so ruthless gangmasters and building contractors operate with impunity. This, in my view, is the dark side of EU membership, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that the exploitation of workers is at its worst in the city which is considered the stronghold of the Remain campaign in the EU referendum. I don’t mean to re-litigate Brexit or to imply that exploitation will necessarily diminish after withdrawal, but the fact remains: EU free movement led millions of poor people to seek fortune in the West, where they continue to be ill-used while the authorities and the hypothecated bourgeoisie pretend they don’t exist.