When I was eleven I spent four terms in a girls’ boarding school in Worcestershire – as an only child I did not take well to the lack of privacy, and by far my fondest memory is of a day spent sliding down the Malvern Hills on a tea-tray pinched from the school kitchen. I also remember having to queue up on Sunday evening for our housemistress to dole out our pocket money: she had an enormous ledger and we had to sign against our name to show we’d had the dough. It seems that not all public schools are as diligent when it comes to monitoring transactions.
I’ve been banging this drum for a couple of years now, suggesting that the private education sector should be encouraged, if not compelled, to pay more attention to source of funds. I’m not the only one to see the possibilities; in October 2019 Transparency International published a terrific report titled “At Your Service: Investigating how UK businesses and institutions help corrupt individuals and regimes launder their money and reputations”, and in that they warned that “prestigious UK educational institutions are a key pull factor that brings corrupt individuals and their families to the UK”.
In October 2014, allegations surfaced that Millfield School in Somerset had received payments as part of the “Russian Laundromat” via which wealthy Russians were getting their loot away from Kremlin control. One of the companies uncovered during an investigation into the laundromat was Valemont Properties Limited, registered in the UK. In September 2011 Millfield sent Russian businessman Vadim Zadorozhny a bill for £10,943 for the education of his son – and the bill was settled by Valemont Properties Limited.
And now the UK’s National Crime Agency has published an “amber alert” titled “Bribery & Corruption Risks to UK Independent Schools: Case Studies and Red Flags”. The alert is written for banks, legal and accountancy professionals – and the independent school sector itself. With its examples of how laundering can be done, and red flags to consider, it’s a lesson for us all.