A solicitor accused by the regulator of lying about her anti-money laundering policy has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a tribunal. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal accepted Birmingham solicitor Maya Nisa-Zaman’s testimony that her firm MZ Law Solicitors had a compliant risk assessment when quizzed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2019.
This was her ‘genuinely held view’ and the tribunal found the SRA had failed to prove its allegations that Nisa-Zaman had acted dishonestly. All allegations of wrongdoing were dismissed and no order made for costs – leaving each party to pay their own costs.
The tribunal heard that Nisa-Zaman, admitted in 2011, had been contacted in late 2019 asking whether her firm had in place a fully compliant firm-wide risk assessment, as required by new anti-money laundering regulations. This had followed a series of SRA warnings about the need to comply with the new rules and the publicised decision to contact all solicitors firm asking for evidence of their compliance.
New money laundering regulations came into force in 2017 and required solicitor firms to take appropriate steps to identify and assess the risks of money laundering. Guidance published a year later asked bodies such as the SRA to require that legal practices carry out and maintain a documented firm-wide risk assessment.
Nisa-Zaman answered ‘yes’ to the SRA’s enquiry and ticked a box declaring this information was correct to the best of her knowledge and belief.
The SRA was in contact again a few months later on a separate matter, and asked her for the written risk assessment. She replied almost immediately attaching an uncompleted SRA template.
The regulator submitted to the tribunal that Nisa-Zaman’s 2019 declaration had been false and that she had known no risk assessment was in place. In sending the document, it was alleged that she tried to mislead the SRA.
Her representatives told the tribunal that Nisa-Zaman had a small firm dealing mostly in residential and domestic conveyancing, with her husband as practice manager and two other members of staff.
She was not good with technology but regarded money laundering issues as central to her core work, and she considered the practice always had a ‘firm grip’ on the matter. Clients were mostly people living and working in the Birmingham area rather than property investors or high net worth individuals who might have presented more of a risk.
Nisa-Zaman said that a compliant, firm-wide anti-money laundering risk assessment had been in place from June 2017 onwards, as required by the regulations. She had practised the fundamentals of the AML policy on a day-today basis and had seen no need to check the hard copy of the policy. The office scanner had been faulty when the SRA asked for a copy, and she denied that her actions were the result of panicking because no risk assessment had been made.
Nisa-Zaman submitted it was never her intention to deceive anyone. She had an unblemished disciplinary record and had no claims made on any of her conveyancing files. She had tried her best to run a decent honest law firm within her community, she said.
The tribunal found her to be a credible witness who had thought about the risks presented by money laundering and put in place processes to counter them.
‘She was clearly a busy solicitor who was highly regarded by her peers in the profession and by others as illustrated by the character evidence called on her behalf,’ the tribunal added. ‘She had an exemplary record and the files examined by the SRA during its investigation were found to be flawless.’