Purpose – The purpose of this paper evolves from a seminar that look place in July 2008 aimed at uncovering the issues facing agencies tackling criminal money management and money laundering policy and compliance. The event brought representatives from financial firms and law enforcement agencies together to debate issues with academics. Design/methodology/approach – The paper rehearses the main arguments arising from the seminar underpinned by appropriate literature prior to introducing the other papers included in the special edition. Findings – The objective is to draw attention to the importance of establishing evidence-based building blocks of facts, rather than threats and imagery that should be used to inform policy makers. Practical implications – Policy makers need to pay attention to the findings of objective empirical research and use theses to inform policy making. Originality/value – The special edition is of value to academics and policy makers, bringing together, as it does, research that is taking place across Europe.