To quote directly from the Court of Appeal summary in the recent case of a solicitor jailed for money laundering offences (see  Gazette, 9 November, 4): ?The prosecution?s case was that the transfer of the property? was intended to frustrate the confiscation proceedings and that the defendant had to have known from the gross undervalue of the property, that it was from the proceeds of crime.?
Am I the only lawyer to shudder in reading that? How can we possibly be expected to form that assumption in such circumstances?
How many times and for how many varied and seemingly ?legitimate? reasons have clients instructed us to deal with undervalue or gift transactions? The Law Society money laundering advice, lengthy though it is, can essentially be boiled down to this ? know your client and use your judgement. So far as I can see, that is what the solicitor in this case did ? and look where it got him.
I have no wish to see criminals hide their ill-gotten gains, and I support the principal behind the Proceeds of Crime Act and the money laundering reporting officers, but how are we property professionals now to proceed?
Surely even the client with the most watertight bona fides must be viewed at least with half suspicion. Put another way, I know them (and like most of them), but I am not prepared to go to prison for them.
It seems clear to me now the only truly safe position must be to decline to act for anything other than full-value transactions, or alternatively report anything with a gift element or undervalue to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Matthew Macefield, Taylor Simpson & Mosley, Derby