The term “professional enabler” has a menacing tone to it, I always think. We started hearing it back in 2014, when the UK’s National Crime Agency, in its “High End Money Laundering Strategy and Action Plan”, observed this: “The ability of criminals to launder large sums of money themselves without attracting attention is limited. Therefore, criminals need someone professional, capable and trustworthy to make the necessary arrangements. Although there are many ways to launder money, it is often the professional enabler who holds the key to the kind of complex processes that can provide the necessary anonymity for the criminal. Professionals such as lawyers, trust and company formation agents, investment bankers and accountants are among those at greatest risk of becoming involved, either wittingly or unwittingly.” Wittingly, we all gasped – surely not! And yet… an interesting story was forwarded to me last week by Roy in Jersey (thanks, Roy).
On 22 June 2018 Chester barrister Peter Moss was jailed for eighteen months for tax fraud: he earned more than £600,000 over an eight-year period but failed to submit twenty-six VAT returns, and the last self-assessment tax return he submitted was in 1999. HMRC reckon that he defrauded them of about £138,500. His defence was that, although he knew he should have submitted returns, he didn’t realise that it was an offence not to do so. This was despite earlier warnings from HMRC. Oh, and the fact that Mr Moss specialises in cases of serious fraud. (Usually committed by other people but, as it turns out, not always.)
Staff in training sessions sometimes ask me why they have to do CDD checks when the client already has a bank account, or has been introduced by a reputable solicitor or accountant. “They’ve already done the checks, surely, so why should we do them again?” But if a barrister can come equipped with the blindest eye since Helen Keller, and with HMRC currently leading a research project into the risk posed by professional enablers, I think we have our answer. Or, as Mr Moss might once have said, I rest my case, m’lud.