There are many reports that come across my desk and are of the “read once and file” quality. Others seem to become more and more relevant and pertinent as time goes on, with each re-reading offers more material. One such (and this might surprise you) is the UK Home Office’s “Serious and Organised Crime Strategy“. Published in October 2013, this has been quoted in pretty much every training session I have done since then. And one of its warnings has been proven sadly prescient this week.
In its section on money laundering, the SOCS (that’s rather jazzy – I wonder if the Home Office people call it that, or perhaps the HOSOCS) warns that “complicit, negligent or unwitting professionals in the financial, accountancy and legal professions in the UK facilitate money laundering on behalf of organised criminals”. This sounds a bit pat – it’s a familiar warning, after all, and the reasoning behind drawing lawyers and accountants into the AML family – but a recent news story has shown that it is only too true. At the end of February, three men in Northern Ireland were jailed for their parts in a mortgage fraud and money laundering operation: a former banker, a former solicitor and a former estate agent. (It sounds like the start of a dull joke, or characters in a city-themed edition of Cluedo, but it’s true. And it is not made clear whether they were former professionals even before the investigation, or became former afterwards, if you follow.) In short, the three colluded to make false mortgage applications on eight properties, defrauding banks of more than £3 million, using false identities and front companies to carry out the fraud and launder the proceeds. Their position as professionals was key to their “success”; as Detective Chief Inspector Todd Clements of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Organised Crime Branch said, “Each defendant used their respective positions of trust to obtain loans to buy land or properties… These were sophisticated and well-planned frauds which involved serious breaches of trust.”
I talked in a recent post about the new UK sentencing guidelines for corporate offences of fraud, bribery and money laundering. One of the main aggravating features for financial crimes is “offence committed by someone in a position of trust” – this can include the supermarket cashier who steals from the till, or the home careworker who steals from her charge’s purse. And – quite rightly – this standard is applied even more fiercely to those who make a profession (the word is applied with care, to limited jobs) out of being trusted.