Prince Charles is being accused of naivety. That’s one way to describe it.
Turns out HRH accepted three cash gifts of about a million each from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the former prime minister of Qatar.
HRH deposited the money into the accounts of the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, which finances the causes Charles holds dear. I don’t know if speech therapy for plants is one of them, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
One way or the other, the transactions aren’t believed to have been illegal, so HRH isn’t going to have his collar felt, which is comforting to know. However, his moral judgement is appalling.
He failed to perform due diligence, which in this case could have boiled down to a simple question. What kind of people pay or receive millions in cash?
After all, most people, including many rich ones, have never even seen a million pounds in cash. Why would they? We have at our disposal many instant methods of money transfer. Tap in a few numbers, push a button, and Harun al-Rashid is your uncle.
I’ve seen Penelope do that many times, if with amounts considerably smaller than a million quid. And if some small French firms still haven’t yet got their heads around electronics, she sends them a cheque. No bags (or, in our case, envelopes) of cash ever see the light of day.
We have quite a few wealthy people among our friends, and some of their transactions are much bigger than ours. Yet they don’t stuff bundles of banknotes into briefcases either. So who does?
The kind of people who need to keep payments off the books for any number of reasons, few of them praiseworthy. In other words, dishonest people. In still other words, criminals.
An example from my experience, if I may. Penelope’s niece went to one of Britain’s top schools for girls. The annual tuition costs about £70,000 now, but when our niece went there, it was about half that amount.
Like most such schools, it attracted many foreigners, those for whom money wasn’t an object, but social prestige was. Some of them were Russians, those who are misleadingly called oligarchs, but who are in fact gangsters.
And gangsters keep much of their assets liquid, which is good for a quick getaway. Cash is also less traceable than any transfers involving banks, which offers obvious advantages to chaps whose gains are ill-gotten.
One such Russian had the apple of his eye admitted to that school, but the headmistress informed him that an annual fee had to be paid in advance. Not a problem. The man walked to his car, came back with a briefcase full of £500 notes and nonchalantly tossed the requisite number of bundles on the headmistress’s desk. Job done.
Not quite. To her credit, the headmistress refused to accept the cash payment. She knew what our future king (perish the thought!) doesn’t: that cash carried around in such amounts is almost certain to be covered with dirt or even blood. And the good woman didn’t want to sully her hands with either substance.
Had she accepted the purloined cash, she would have done nothing illegal. And of course these days legality has subsumed morality. Not doing anything wrong isn’t an issue any longer. Only not getting caught is.
I’m not qualified to ponder the fine legal print involved, although I fail to see a valid moral difference between accepting stolen property and purloined cash. But fine, if that’s the line the law draws, we have to accept it – even if we think it’s drawn in some funny places.
One just wishes that our future king (perish the thought!) had enough moral sense to compile a mental list of the kind of people who routinely handle millions in readies. Any such list would include Colombian drug barons, American mafiosi, Russian friends of Putin, Chinese friends of Xi, foreign or homegrown gangsters and tax evaders, money launderers – and assorted sheikhs.
Our royals’ hobnobbing with such people and accepting their lavish gifts brings the monarchy into disrepute. And our monarchy can ill-afford coming across as any old group of people scrapping for whatever they can get.
The principle significance of this institution is transcendent, rising above politics and other quotidian concerns preoccupying most people. That’s why our royals should neither look nor, more important, act like most people.
They should hold themselves to the highest moral standards for, if they fall short, too many people will start wondering what the monarchy is for. Such questions will arise anyway when the Queen goes, and it will be up to her successors to provide satisfactory answers.
Accepting millions in dubious cash doesn’t qualify as one such. HRH should refuse such gifts in the future, even at the risk of his plants continuing to speak with a stutter.
P.S. How many suitcases full of cash did it take for Qatar to secure the 2022 World Cup? Just wondering.