The Law Society today slammed an official report that brands solicitors as facilitators of corruption, claiming it fails to acknowledge the work the profession has done to clamp down on economic crime.
In this year's National Strategic Assessment, its third annual analysis of the threat posed by serious and organised crime, the National Crime Agency identifies high-end money laundering as one of the top five threats for the year ahead and describes solicitors as ‘crucial to the laundering of illicit funds’.
Other areas highlighted are organised immigration crime, cybercrime and child sexual exploitation.
The report said solicitors and accountants enable corruption committed by UK entities and politically exposed persons through ‘perceived respectability and integrity’.
It added: ‘Their expertise is crucial to the laundering of illicit funds internationally and into the UK. It involves drafting of documentation, dissemination of funds, creation of corporate structures, and in some cases acting as intermediaries.’
Lynne Owens, director general of the NCA, said: ‘The threat from serious and organised crime continues to evolve and has done so over the last year in ways that have attracted considerable and understandable public attention.
‘Against this backdrop there have been major operational successes spanning multiple areas of crime. All these successes have been built on collaboration, which is fundamental both to our understanding of the threat and to our delivery of the most effective response.’
But Robert Bourns (pictured), president of the Law Society, rejected the claims and said solicitors face ‘arguably the strictest anti-money laundering regime in the world’.
He added that solicitors are subject to ‘aggressive criminal penalties’ for even unwitting involvement in money laundering and professional sanctions should they act illegally.
‘They are, and should be treated as, an asset in the fight against organised crime,’ he told the Gazette. ‘The Law Society and the solicitor profession have provided, and will continue to provide, the NCA with the help it needs to combat bribery and corruption. It is disappointing that this report failed to acknowledge this.’