Money laundering is an issue which is becoming of increasing concern to all legal professionals due to the implications of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. Moreover, it is increasingly common for prosecutors to consider charging money laundering offences alongside, or even instead, of substantive offences.
Understanding how to deal with the avoidance of money laundering within your practice continues to be difficult as law and regulations are complex and the matters with which solicitors must deal do not always fall neatly within the examples that are given at lectures and in regulatory guidance.
The principal money laundering offences involve the concealment, disguise, conversion, transfer or removal of criminal property, or becoming involved in the arrangement of money laundering, or acquiring, using or possessing criminal property. Spotting when those offences are being, or are likely to be, committed and knowing what to do in the circumstances is not always easy. Lawyers must at all times try to balance their duties of confidentiality and good faith to the client with the legal and regulatory requirements to which they are subject.
All legal professionals are obliged to disclose information about a transaction that they know, suspect or ought reasonably have known or suspected, involves money laundering. Failing to do so is a criminal offence punishable to a maximum of five years imprisonment. The most common defence to this allegation is that the information came to a professional legal adviser and in privileged circumstances. However, the best way of avoiding an allegation of failing to report is, of course, to have made the appropriate report.
In addition, lawyers must avoid committing the offence of “tipping off” which occurs where a person discloses that a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) has been made by any person to the police, HMRC, SOCA or a nominated officer, if that disclosure may prejudice any investigation that may be carried out as a result of the SAR. In many legal transactions where time is of the essence and where the lawyer is under a duty to advance a client’s interests, it may be difficult to explain why a transaction is not moving forward without committing the tipping-off offence.
These are all complex areas of law which require specialist legal advice. The Lawyers Defence Group’s team of serious fraud lawyers have experience in advising other professionals about the appropriateness of making an authorised disclosure and how to avoid committing other offences under the various pieces of legislation. They can also assist you and your practice in putting in place the necessary procedures to help ensure compliance with the law and can provide staff and others with appropriate training, guidance and support.
For more information about how we can assist you and your practice with issues relating to money laundering, contact the Lawyers Defence Group by:
- telephoning during office hours – 0845 216 2000,
- requesting a call-back using the call-back request form to the right,
- telephoning our out of hours number (but please only in an emergency – for example when someone has been arrested or you believe that your firm might be about to be intervened in) 07952 861 868,
- emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or
- writing to us at one of the addresses at the bottom of this web page.