Saturday 30 March 2013

Unclaimed Dosh (A Cautionary Tale).

I was listening to an interview with writer Anthony Horowitz on the radio last night. Fast-talking Horowitz is the writer of TV's Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War, amongst other things.

At the end of the interview he mentioned that his late father had, not long before he died, deposited a large amount of money in a Swiss bank account (or maybe it was Cyprus); but had omitted to give the family any details. This reminded me of my own father; but not of the same important sum of money.

Back in the 1960's the British government imposed certain 'Exchange Control Regulations'; in effect, an annoying limit on how much money one could take abroad when on holiday.... I think the limit was £60 in any foreign currency.

During this period of unnecessary deprivation, my people had stayed for a while at the Aga Khan's famous Hotel Romazzino on Sardinia's Costa Smeralda (Princess Margaret was amongst the fellow guests), where a single night's stay was then about £60; so the problems of 'Exchange Control' were immediately obvious.

To cope with such petty bureaucracy, father decided that he needed a foreign, secretive (ahem), bank account, and when next in Andorra he deposited an emergency amount of cash with the small Principality's National Bank. Having mentioned this to me, he subsequently forgot all about it, and the money remained untouched; earning a small amount of interest each year.

Not long before he died we were watching some TV programme about Andorra, and he suddenly remembered his bank account. I was instantly instructed to write to them (including his UK bank account details), in order for them to close his account, and refund his deposit. After about a month or so a correct-looking sum of money (from said bank) appeared on his regular statement, and all was resolved.

But, having listened to Horowitz's tale of his own father's folly, I wondered how many bank deposits there must be, in far away places (or even in the UK), which remain unclaimed. I imagine there is some 'Statute of Limitations' on such accounts, and the bankers presumably become rich on their contents. Easy money!

Had my father and I not watched that particular TV programme, his unclaimed dosh would be there to this day. Phew!


  1. For a while now I've been wondering how difficult it would be to open a bank account overseas. It's almost impossible to open one in the UK I'm told so I wonder about France. Trying to transfer money from Australia to pay for holiday rentals costs a fortune in bank charges and the correct amount never arrives causing further trouble. Big time criminals as well as people like your father don't seem to have any trouble opening accounts!

    1. Back in the 60's most banks were happy to accept your money, in no matter what country. Nowadays I can't even get my own bank in the UK to credit my bank in France with money unless I actually go there to sign papers. They are petrified of anyone doing anything dodgy... unless, of course, you're Russian.

  2. It's a dream, isn't it - the idea that some relative has left money in an account somewhere and suddenly we find it and it is ours! I think the government here in UK has decided after a certain amount of time, money unclaimed in a bank goes to charity. (Though I think it can also be reclaimed, somehow or other, later.) Not a very precise comment this!

  3. Getting money out of Angola is a nightmare but it used to be worse. In order to transfer money abroad it had to be supported by an invoice. You are allowed now to take out up to $10,000 but to get the cash you need valid airtickets. Banks hang on to money, it once took me 4 months to make a transfer to my UK account. Even though I have a dollar account, the bank never has dollars so, in order to transfer money abroad, I recive the money out of my dollar account in local currency, Kwanzas being charged the usual bank commission to change dollars into kwanzas. I then take the kwanzas to an illegal money changer and pay a horrible rate to change them back into dollars. I then go to Western Union and Moneygram over the next few days and send the money to my brother in Germany who has to make several trips to the WU and Moneygram offices to collect the transfers. Naturally I pay a fee for that service too. To ensure my brother gets 5000, it costs me nearly six grand.

    When I sold a house here back in 98 I received the money in cash dollars. I took the briefcase full of money back to my office, stripped off and had a mate bandage the 10,000 dollar bundles to my body and then bribed my way onto the docks so that I could visit 'my German uncle' who was captain of a freighter so please, please, could the Fiscal Police please escort me to his ship and let me have a few drinks on board with him before he sailed? All I want to do, I said, is see him as I hadn't seen him in years and give him a present. I then held up my rucksack which they searched and found inside an Angola Artisan carving.

    'You haven't paid the tax at the Ministry of Culture' they pointed out. Back then, if you bought a souvenir, you had to take it to the Ministry of Culture, pay the tax and then they would stick a stamp on it. Thus distracted, they gleefully accepted another bribe and I was allowed on board whereupon I stripped off and dumped the cash on the Captain's bunk.

    My only concerns had been whether the fact I was clad all in jeans, including a jeans shirt AND jacket in all that heat and sweating like a pig would arouse suspicion and whether the Fiscal Police who were escorting me would notice my sudden drastic weight loss after leaving the vessel.

    1. Good god. Whenever I now want a lump sum of cash from the UK, I send someone a cheque, and they bring me the Euro equivalent. Even that I find frustrating!

  4. In a bank vault somewhere in London, a small fortune resides after a distant relative of mine (also a sculptor) died intestate in the 17th century. I have not bothered to try to make the connection, even before the banks disgraced themselves in the latest set of scandals.

  5. Very interesting stories. Recently I've had reason to remind myself a number of times that banks are just businesses, like any other. Except that there's not really any alternative - we have to use them - and of course that teeny tiny difference that they get given money when THEY make a loss...


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