A solicitor who got involved in ‘red flag’ transactions with possible links to Mexican drug cartels has been suspended for 15 months.
Steven David Kinch, admitted in 1989, accepted that between 2015 and 2018 he failed to comply with money laundering obligations; that he caused and/or permitted his firm’s client account to be used as a banking facility; and that he improperly acted in and/or facilitated schemes which bore the hallmarks of dubious transactions.
He also admitted to lack of integrity, recklessness and manifest incompetence, the statement says.
Kinch was a sole practitioner at SDK Law in West Sussex when he acted on eight matters for two companies with the same directors. According to the statement of agreed facts, certain transactions ‘exhibited many of the red flags in relation to money laundering’ and Kinch did not fully understand what he was working on.
‘His understanding of the role of the parties involved in the transactions was unclear, and the nature of the transactions being conducted was outside of his area of expertise, involved foreign lawyers and companies based in other jurisdictions, and contained multiple documents with confusing and meaningless terminology,' the statement of agreed facts said.
'Despite this, the respondent confirmed to the forensic investigation officer that he believed he had the expertise and experience to act on the matters.'
It added that Kinch’s suspicions should have been raised when he was being instructed in a type of work which he had not practised in before, and which involved foreign nationals who were overseas residents, when he had no connection or profile within that country. 'It should have been obvious to the respondent that the only reason for his involvement was to lend credibility to the schemes.'
According to the statement, certain transactions were connected to a company incorporated in Sinaloa, Mexico, ‘which is an area known to be prevalent for drug cartels and drug trafficking’.
In mitigation, Kinch said he regrets becoming involved in the transactions and if he had believed the parties were acting illegally then he would have not acted further and would have made a report to the National Crime Agency.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal ordered that Kinch be suspended for 15 months from 4 August 2020, and that he pay costs of £5,000.
After the suspension, for a period of three years Kinch may not practise as a sole practioner; be a compliance officer for legal practice or a compliance officer for finance and administration; hold client money; or be a signatory on any client account.