Conviction: 'it takes only one error to find yourself in same situation,' reporting officers told
A solicitor who was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for a money laundering offence spoke this week of the 'injustice' he has received - and warned other money laundering reporting officers (MLROs) that 'it only takes one error' to find themselves in the same situation.
Philip Griffiths, whose sentence was reduced from 15 months to six months by the Court of Appeal in September, said a partnership approach towards MLROs was needed by the police and prosecution, rather than trying to 'use those charged as an example to others'.
In Mr Griffiths' appeal against sentence, Mr Justice Leveson acknowledged that the solicitor had been acquitted of more serious offences based on knowledge and suspicion. He was convicted of failing to disclose to authorities when he had reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting that a transaction involved money laundering. The judge also acknowledged that Mr Griffiths 'was not making a great profit', having only received his normal conveyancing fee of £399.
Mr Justice Leveson noted that the solicitor had lost his practice as a result of the conviction and the impact on his health and personal life had been 'dramatic'. However, he agreed with the first instance judge that 'society demands a high degree of professionalism from solicitors', and predicted that Mr Griffiths will 'rightly' be struck off the roll.
The judge added: '[Solicitors] are one of the door keepers of financial probity in connection with this legislation and it is one of the obligations to which each one will be required to measure up to the hilt. In that regard, we agree that a custodial sentence was equally inevitable.' However, he questioned whether the sentence needed to be as long as 15 months 'to make the point that has to be made'.
Mr Griffiths had acted for an estate agent whom he knew and trusted in the purchase of a house for less than its value. The property was being sold by drug traffickers.
Mr Griffiths said: 'I made a simple mistake, amounting even in its worst interpretation to no more than an error of professional judgement, from which I made no benefit... all sole practitioners and MLROs in solicitors' practices should take heed.'
He added: 'Every MLRO is at the same risk as I was. Get it wrong and go to jail is the simple approach adopted at present, and injustice is the result.'