Three solicitors with 74 years’ 'exemplary' experience between them have admitted allowing their firm’s client account to be used as a banking facility.
Richard Kaufman, Avram Kelman and Philip Turner, all members and partners of London firm Fladgate, each admitted breaking SRA accounts rules at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Between them, they had overseen four sets of payments, with a collective value of more than £4m, that were not linked to any underlying legal work or transaction.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority said Kaufman, Turner and Kelman, who was the Fladgate money laundering reporting officer, had attempted to mitigate their position by suggesting that all payments were made in accordance with client instructions.
But the regulator noted that even when acting with instructions, solicitors ‘doing the bidding’ of a client was precisely what the rules were designed to prevent.
The SRA submitted it should have been ‘clear and obvious throughout’ that this amounted to the use of the client account as a banking facility which received funds and then disbursed them on instruction.
The regulator said it required ‘no specialist knowledge or understanding’ to see the meaning of the rules, and the solicitors’ conduct was ‘manifestly inappropriate’ amounting to a ‘fundamental failure in their duties’.
Kaufman, who was admitted to the roll in 1985, Kelman, admitted in 1993, and Turner, admitted in 1996, pointed to a ‘tension’ in the rules about what instructions were needed to disburse funds, and they had failed to appreciate they were offering a banking facility.
The tribunal noted the trio were all ‘long-standing and responsible members of the profession with exemplary disciplinary records’ who were ‘mortified’ to find themselves before it.
The tribunal noted that breaches had occurred twice in a period of fours years, from 2009 to 2013, but said these were the only two incidents out of a number of large transactions over this period.
Kelman, described as the ‘gatekeeper’ to prevent rule breaches, was fined £15,000, while Kaufman was fined £13,000. Turner, who was said to have committed an ‘inadvertent’ breach of the rules, was reprimanded. Total prosecution costs of £40,000 were ordered.