Security chiefs recently gave a 'rough indicator' of Hong Kong's money-laundering problem. They indicated 73 money-laundering investigations are on-going. These involve HK$4.9 billion in suspected dirty cash but the likelihood of prosecuting the culprits, based on past experience, is minimal. The number of financial institutions, accountants or lawyers likely to feel the long arm of the law for their part in facilitating a laundering spree - nil. Hong Kong is in somewhat of a rut. It has laws in place to clamp down on money-laundering - for which it receives regular pats on the back from international agencies - but putting them into action has proved difficult. So difficult in fact that the SAR faces the prospect of being blacklisted by the same anti-laundering agencies which once sang its praises, according to Commissioner for Narcotics Clarie Lo Ku Ka-lee. Such a warning from a high-ranking official should serve as a major wake-up call, and it is somewhat ironic that Hong Kong will this summer take up the chair of the Financial Action Taskforce on Money Laundering (FATF) for a year. It was the FATF's recent decision to blacklist 15 'non co-operative' jurisdictions - including the Philippines - that prompted Ms Lo to warn that Hong Kong could face similar sanctions unless it got its conviction rate up to scratch. The figures are particularly bleak: 3,000 investigations during the past four years have resulted in just 49 convictions. Reports of suspicious transactions are being made to the police by banks and other financial institutions, but they are often of poor quality. Then again, at least they are making the reports. Accountants and lawyers in Hong Kong simply do not bother - hardly a surprise. Perhaps if a money laundering case was to put these professionals in the dock? Not likely. Here's the problem: law enforcers have to prove the professionals actually knew or had reasonable grounds to believe money laundering was taking place. It has been impossible to prove these two mental elements. Even suspects who have been charged have walked free when it came to convincing a judge. Similar problems have dogged Britain's track record. A recent Cabinet Office report explained that the law 'permits a professional to ask no questions and then claim that he or she had no suspicion or knowledge in relation to laundering. This is known as 'blind-eyeing' '. In an attempt to overcome the process, the administration recently came up with the Drug Trafficking and Organised Crimes (Amendment) Bill. This proposed that involved parties only have 'reasonable grounds to suspect' in order to fall foul of the law. It would require a 'right-thinking member of the community' to suspect a transaction represented the proceeds of drug trafficking or another indictable offence. It's all about putting 'common sense' into the equation. In more legal terms, it requires 'a reasonable ground of suspicion upon which a reasonable man may act'. This did not go down well in the Legislative Council. Legal heavyweights such as Margaret Ng and Martin Lee were particularly vocal at Bills Committee meetings. Their concern was with protecting the innocent. People could be jailed for bad judgment or because they were not intelligent enough to interpret a suspicious transaction of cash into money laundering. Put more bluntly, what if a person was just 'too thick' to harbour any suspicions? The legislators were convinced innocent bank tellers, lacking in grey matter, would end up behind bars and have in effect sent the bill back to the drawing board. Ms Lo is back at square one unless she can pull something out of her hat in time for the next meeting with the bills committee in May. It will have to be a feat worthy of Houdini if threats of blacklists and retribution failed. Jake van der Kamp is on holiday.