The million dollar question

Javier Bardem -

“Did you, by any chance, see a bag of cash?”

So what would you really do if you find SGD$1.1 million in the cab you are driving?

Sia Ka Tian, a 70 year-old Singaporean cab driver, made the news worldwide when he returned a bag containing $1.1 million cash left behind in his taxi. The money was subsequently claimed by a Thai couple and the cabby was rewarded with an undisclosed amount.

While Mr Sia is rightly lauded for his honesty, many others will think it was silly of him not to take the money. In fact, such is the incredulity generated by Mr Sia’s act that one news website carried it under its Bizarre News section.

Are you one of those who will take the money? If so, have you considered the actual consequences of doing so? I was intrigued by such a scenario and began to imagine what one should do in such a, shall we call it, predicament. Let’s ditch honesty aside for a moment and consider this.

The first question one may ask is: is it a crime to take the money? I’m guessing most people won’t know for sure, and there won’t be much time to go figure that out in such a situation. You have to make a call, and a couple of hours may be all the time you have. You probably won’t even know exactly how much money there is, such was the case with Mr Sia. Take it and if, in the best case scenario, nobody reports a loss, the money is then yours — happy days. That is highly unlikely though, so we can reasonably expect the owners to report their loss either to the taxi company or to the police.

You are in for a sticky situation when the police gets involved. What do you do then? Not own up? You could hide the money at home for a period of time until they stop looking. But what if the owners saw your name on the dashboard or remember what you look like? These are the possibilities you have to consider from the outset,  because you can’t act blur after getting caught.

Some will think of fleeing to another country. But is $1.1 million a big enough amount for you to abandon your country and life here? It may be enough for you to retire in a low cost third world country, but it probably be a moderate rather than luxurious lifestyle (no speedboat jetting off into the sunset off the coast of Monte Carlo). And how do you even get the money out in the first place without raising suspicions?

It gets really complicated when you start asking why there was so much money in a bag in the first place. They could well be just cash-rich tourists, but what if it’s more dodgy than that? They could be drug lords, the Mafia, terrorists, dictators from a foreign repressive regime, etc. That means they have connections, and the means of hunting you down. Ever watched No Country for Old Men? Next thing you know, Javier Bardem will don his creepy psycho wig and come after you with a bolt gun (only after he’s done killing James Bond, naturally). If you’re lucky, he may let you off on a coin toss.

As you see, a more careful consideration will bring up countless possibilities and decisions you have to ponder over. Give it to a movie scriptwriter and he can easily spin a story on how your life gets all messed up the moment your greed overrides your common sense. And even if you do get away, the guilt will always be there as well as the constant fear. Are you able to handle all these, considering you were just a down to earth taxi driver? Very soon paranoia will set in and you will find yourself in a real life version of Crime and Punishment.

I think I might just return the money too.