Saturday, 19 January 2013

Frank confessions

Lance Armstrong is now the latest to have made a confession in a stage-managed performance on TV. I don't follow professional cycling, so I can't say anything sensible about what he seems to be admitting to. But I spent most of my thirty-five year career investigating people who wanted to pay less tax than they should, and I ought to know something about temptation, cheating, concealment, and the mentality of guiltless sustained lying.

I can tell you that it needs an extraordinary amount of self-justification and self-belief, and a complete refusal to accept that the ordinary rules ever applied to yourself, even when the game is up. In a word, arrogance. I know this because the hardest thing to get, once a case was broken and the concealed income admitted to, was an admission of guilt.

None of my cases ended in a criminal prosecution. The person found to have cheated was instead given the opportunity to make a money settlement. A contract to pay an agreed sum, and then walk away free. This included the tax (of course), interest on that tax (often considerable, if the concealment had been going on for a long time; but not usually resisted), and a 'penalty' - which was Revenuespeak for a fine. The settlement contract always contained words that explained in a formal way why the fine was being imposed, and those words shouted Guilty.

And that was what the closing negotiations were always centred on. Very often a person would be willing to pay up, but just wouldn't admit to have done anything wrong and punishable. Despite the damning facts found.

The art of reaching a negotiated settlement, by getting that contract signed, most often hinged on overcoming all that self-justification. Duress was not the way, nor the offer of inducements: either would invalidate the contract. A frank, voluntary confession of serious irregularities was needed, and the matter then recorded in the document to be signed. It was the price of an out-of-court settlement, well away from public scrutiny and comment.

I imagine that Lance Armstrong will have to settle with a good many very angry companies and individuals before he is done. If he is lucky, he will do it out of court. But he will have to acknowledge personal guilt each time, and be humiliated each time, until all claims are met and he can move on. I doubt if he will enjoy what lies ahead. I think it could scar him for life.

He isn't the first to have made a public confession, and he won't be the last. Because despite this latest example, there will always be people who will think they can get away with it and prosper. Human nature, I suppose. It's sad, because a soiled reputation damages you across the board. If you cheat in one thing, why not everything? Why should anyone trust you ever again?

1 comment:

  1. Yep. Could not agree more.
    Arrogance, combined with insane ambition.



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