Lawyers must fix the problems with gagging orders before it is too late
The significant sentence handed down (4th January, 2019) to a solicitor after being found guilty of three offences of money laundering shows that law enforcement is serious about cracking down on “professional enablers”. Scott McKay was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for money laundering committed in the course of his business as a conveyancing solicitor. It is reported that his conviction related to his work in the purchase of over eighty properties bought on behalf of members of a criminal gang.
According to a Greater Manchester Police statement, “McKay was complicit in the group’s criminal activities by providing his conveyancing services in order for the money to be laundered. Deposits were put down on houses where the true illegal source of the funds was disguised from the lenders, mortgage applications used nominees instead of the names of the legitimate purchasers, and claims about income were wildly exaggerated in order to secure the loans. McKay was fully aware that the purpose of the transactions was to launder criminal proceeds and he was deliberately dishonest in facilitating them.”
A custodial sentence of seven years is a significant sentence. The judge’s sentencing remarks emphasised the significance of his professional status: “You were expected to be a person of utmost integrity and honesty. You fell far short of those high standards of professionalism, trust and integrity that are to be expected of a solicitor. You failed, as was your duty, to uphold the law and the proper administration of justice.”
In the last few months a range of government initiatives have identified professionals implicated in money laundering as a particular target for law enforcement. In November 2018 for example, Economic Crime Minister Ben Wallace spoke of the need to focus on the practice of organised criminals who “employ facilitators to give themselves a veil of legitimacy and to allow them to enjoy their wealth. Lawyers, accountants and estate agents are too often woven into their web.”
Whilst this sentence reflects the egregious facts of the case, it is none the less a reminder to all solicitors, particularly those involved in transactional work, of the significant sanction that there is for those who fail to take adequate steps to ensure their legal services are not misused by criminals.
For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team.
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