The Expat Terrorist
Expat life is always full of surprises in Spain and the Canary Islands; nothing is ever quite what it seems, and this week has been no exception. I received a letter from the bank that I have been with since we moved to Spain demanding information. Parts of the letter were written in red ink as well as block capitals, which I assumed was meant to stress those parts that I should fret about most.
This letter was all part of a curt communication pointing out that under “Law 10/2010 of 28 April on the Prevention of Money Laundering and the Funding of Terrorism”, the bank had an obligation to check my identity and professional activity. The letter then went on to say that if I did not comply with their demands, my account would be “restricted”, meaning that I could not use their Internet banking and other services. Fortunately, there is no capital punishment in Spain at the moment; otherwise I am sure that they would have threatened that as well.
The letter also demanded payslips, social security employment records (vida laboral), my annual VAT return for the last quarter, or proof of having paid the last social security self-employed contribution. I am not registered, nor do I pay VAT, my accountant deals with social security contributions and I have not seen a vida laboral for at least five years.
Now I am all for countering terrorism and money laundering, but I doubt many offenders would use my local branch. This delightful letter was from a bank that I have used and trusted since I first set foot in Spain as an expat, and the branch knows me well. Clearly, this was another of the games that we have to play in Spain from time to time, which I am well used to. It can be endless fun, if viewed from the right angle, but it is no good arguing with the system or getting angry. One merely has to appear humble and confused, smile a lot, claim insanity or not understanding the language. Above all, one has to swamp the system with paperwork, and lots of it.
I learned many years ago that Spanish bureaucracy loves nothing more than paper. One has only to wave a sheet of A4 across the eyes of a Spanish bureaucrat or bank official, and watch their facial expression glaze over, and turn into one of immense and immediate greed. These officials are well trained and can smell a document in your possession from a hundred paces. They snatch the document from you and, if you are fortunate, hurry off to the nearest photocopier to produce at least three copies, returning the original. If one is naive or unfortunate, they will grab the original and it is never seen again. This is very dangerous and inconvenient, and I learned many years ago NEVER to produce an original document for any bank or government official. The second thing that all Spanish officials have is a love affair with the fax machine, and it is more than likely that any document that you surrender will end up in one.
Back to the letter from my bank. I spent most of the day producing a box file of photocopies of all the documents that I thought would interest them. In view of their huge appetite for paperwork of any description, I have also learned never to volunteer anything, but to let it be requested, and certainly not to hand over a complete box file voluntarily.
I placed all the documents in a carrier bag with my shopping. When I arrived at the bank, I met a charming young bank clerk, who seemed anxious to attend to my every need and, in particular, get me to sign up for a loan that I didn’t need. I handed over the offending letter; he smiled and nodded knowingly, and asked for my residency document and passport. He made a joke about the possibility of me being a terrorist, to which I smiled through gritted teeth. The young bank clerk then proceeded to photocopy my passport and residency certificate, which they have done many times before over the years. No other questions were asked and no other documents were requested. For once, I was in and out of the bank in five minutes. Now what was that all about?
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Letters from the Atlantic’ (ISBN: 9780992767136). Available as paperback, as well as on Kindle, iBooks and Google Play Books.