3/08/2014

Money Laundering in Taiwan

I plan to get back to blogging soon. At the moment, I am interested in cotton imports through Tamsui, Taiwan in the late 1870s and early 1880s. This is what the British Consul, Mr. T. Watters, writes on March 6, 1882: "Of the foreign imports, it is mainly in cotton goods and pig lead that there is an increase." Watters goes into detail later on, in the same report: "The Customs Returns do not distinguish between English and American cotton goods, and so it is not possible to write with confidence as to whether the import of British cotton goods has increased. Nor has any distinction of name made by the retailers and consumers. But I have been informed, on very good authority, that American cotton goods are fast becoming popular here, and that importation of them has grown quickly."

I was looking into technological advances that might explain advantageous progress on the part of the American cotton industry during the late part of the nineteenth century. But then it occurred to me: wouldn't the Brits have had access to the same developments? There is an interesting discussion in the Report on Cotton Production in the United States, written by Eugene W. Hilgard, Ph.D., in the service of the US Census Office in 1881, on how the alluvial flood plains created by the Mississippi River, specifically how the river has provided both minerals and irrigation to the region over the years, make the eastern states of the Deep South ideal for cultivation. I will get back to this at a later time as there is a lot of reading to do.


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Something happened to me recently that was a bit of head-shaker. I have discussed it with a few friends and they don't know what to make of it either. It started at the First Bank of Taiwan, where I had arrived to conduct business. Like I have done countless times in the past, I filled out a wire transfer order at the international section so that I could pay my credit card in Canada. The clerk handling the transaction looked it over and asked me write down my address.

"It is there," I said, pointing to my address in Wanhua.

"No. What I mean is your real address."

"I assure you this is my real address. That is where I live," I said.

"What is your home address?"

"What are you talking about? That is my home address." This went around and around for a while. Then I realized what was going on. The bank clerk couldn't fathom that I actually lived in Taiwan. He thought I was a visitor instead, some kind of foreigner as he put it. So I told him: "No. That is my home address. That is where the bank in Canada sends my stuff. I simply do not have an address in Canada."

"Could you give me the address of a relative then?" Why would I do that? Especially as that would be lying...

"You haven't been working long here, have you?" I asked, taking a different tack.

"I have been working here for almost a year!" was the indignant reply.

"OK then. Send it as is or let me talk to someone who knows what is going on."

A couple of days later, I get this call from First Bank. It's the same guy. He starts off by quoting me some non-specific laws on money laundering. Never mind that I have only sent $500 Cdn. Never mind that I put my name on the wire as recipient and also stated it was for a credit card payment. Never mind Canada is one the most regulated countries in the world. Never mind that there is a paper trail. Never mind that it is 500 freakin' dollars! "Don't you think this is absurd?" I finally asked, "especially when you consider the amount? Who on earth would launder $500 Cdn. to themselves, paying around $25 to do so?"

"I did think it was absurd when I looked up the rule. Now your bank refuses to accept the money."

Bullshit. I called my bank in Canada and they had no idea about the case. They hadn't refused the money because they hadn't received it. And yes, they agreed it would absurd to consider this money laundering.

On the topic of money laundering in Taiwan, I have wondered about the following: when I arrived in Taiwan, people often favored jewelry stores over banks for exchanging money. Some said the rates were favorable. Some did this because they didn't have a work ARC in Taiwan. Why did the jewelry stores have large amounts of foreign cash? Where did it come from?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Re where the money came from. I suggest reading the book "Lords of the Rim" by Sterling Seagrave. Why doesn't it happen now may be a better question :)

Patrick Cowsill said...

I have read it. It doesn't really encapsulate me; I am not part of an overseas Chinese effort to dominate global commerce.

EyeDoc said...

Where did the foreign cash come from? Long story (the cash is mostly in US dollars, BTW). Known to older Taiwanese as 黑市, through which, they hoarded USD (and gold) to void a repeat of the catastrophic financial loss of 1947, when the old Taiwan dollar was converted to the New Taiwan dollar, at an exchange rate of 40,000 to one. The wealth of many Taiwanese evaporated overnight.

Patrick Cowsill said...

But why not exchange it at a bank?

EyeDoc said...

And leave a record?

Up until the end of the martial law, underground currency exchanges were illegal. And the only bank that you could buy some US dollars from was the Taiwan Bank where you were asked to fill out forms, submit supporting documents, and wait for approval. There was an upper limit also. Each applicant could buy up to a grand or thereabouts.

(Incidentally, it was "to avoid" not "to void" in my previous comment.)

Patrick Cowsill said...

OK. I think I get it. I faced mentally troblesome paper work just last month. I wonder how the jewelry stores are doing now. I am guessing a market still exists, based on recent exprience. But this is not funny.

Patrick Cowsill said...

BTW, James just asked me when you will be back.

Patrick Cowsill said...

But still, where do you suppose the NT comes from to wash this money?

EyeDoc said...

The source of the NT? It has always been cash-only transaction in all facets of Taiwanese life. Even now. We still have this visceral distrust of the banking system.

I arrive on 4/20. Get together at the Hammer?

Patrick Cowsill said...

Sounds good. I will tell James.

Credit cards are getting a toe hold though. I have noticed that Taiwanese carry more cash than Americans (though this could also be based on the safety of the society). Almost nobody uses cheques. And when they do, it is taken very seriously. For example, my friend (a university prof no less) was jailed for 56 days once for bouncing a cheque.