Michel Perez ('69) from a US dream to fighting money laundering

Many Sciences Po students dream of winning admission to the vaunted School of National Administration (ENA), which produces the highest rung of France’s political elite. But for Michel Perez rejection from ENA was possibly “the best thing that happened in my life.”

The Westchester, NY-based alum spends his time working on issues related to money laundering, speaking at international conferences while simultaneously pursuing a law degree at Panthéon-Sorbonne University. The path to his current career went through two previous professional trajectories, and an international array of jobs in banking and compliance.

Perez never expected to end up working in money laundering, but from his teenage years he knew that he wanted to come to the United States. He spent one summer before Sciences Po road tripping through the United States on Greyhound Bus’s “99 for 99” deal, starting with a swing through New York and Montreal and moving south from there. “That’s really how I discovered the United States, on the road,” said Perez. 

His desire to work in the United States also came from process of elimination and an experience staying with an American friend. Perez had also taken trips to Israel, where he worked on a Kibbutz one summer, and the Soviet Union, of which he recalls his experience interacting with the government minders assigned to his group. But the United States stood out because, he said, “Everyone was really welcoming.”

Sciences Po prepared him to work abroad. He recalled that the university was an exceptionally open environment even though it was not as international as it is today. He also emphasized the skills that he developed there. “Written and verbal expression is something that helps you all your life,” he said.

Asked for his fondest university memories, he grinned, “The revolution, of course.” Perez studied at 27 rue St. Guillaume amidst the historic May 1968 protests, and happily recalled the month’s events. He called the participation of Sciences Po students an “orderly revolution” that eschewed the sometimes-violent nature of the protests in other Paris neighborhoods. His involvement included publishing newspapers for the movement he had joined.

But the ten minute-exposés and essays that characterize a Sciences Po education, as well as the mixture of academic and practicing professors, also helped him following graduation. After earning a business degree from Inséad, he went on to take jobs in banking that took him from Chicago to Haiti to Brazil. After working in banking in New York, he went to work in compliance, which is how he made the transition to working with money laundering. Perez became a Certified Anti-Money Laundering specialist and joined Promontory Financial Group.

That was his second career. As a JD candidate at Sorbonne Panthéon, Perez is pursuing a third career. He’s working on an article that explains French banking regulations in light of the 2016 Sapin anti-money laundering law and is co-editor of the Trimesteral Review of Financial Law.

Looking back on his career, he described his current activities “an active retirement.”

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