Solicitor who “completely failed to carry out money laundering checks” is suspended
Transactions bore the hallmarks of money laundering
A former sole practitioner who “completely failed to carry out money laundering checks or prevent his client bank accounts from being misused”, and as a result saw hundreds of thousands of pounds pass through his firm, has been suspended by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SDT found that Gavin Wilcock had “involved himself in transactions that bore the hallmarks of money laundering”, including the transfer of €400,000 from one “unknown individual” to another in Russia.
The tribunal said Mr Wilcock, who no longer has a practising certificate, had “gone along with what his clients wanted, without regard to his professional obligations”.
The SDT went on: “He had not intended any harm, but as an experienced solicitor he knew or should have known that he was becoming involved in unusual matters; he should have been at least suspicious enough to recognise that he ought fully to implement and act on the very well-known guidance which had been issued to the profession.”
The tribunal said it was “essential to ensure that one knew where money was coming from or going to in order to avoid the risk of becoming engaged in money laundering”.
However, Mr Wilcock “had completely failed to carry out money laundering checks or prevent his client bank accounts from being misused” and had shown “a lack of integrity in his conduct, showing a blatant disregard for the professional rules over a period of about three and a half years”.
Mr Wilcock was born in 1948, admitted in 1974 and was the sole principal of Archer & Wilcock in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, from 2007 until its closure in March 2015.
Following an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in 2014, a report identified 10 matters in the previous three years where £477,600 was paid into and £463,600 out of the firm’s client bank account, but where there were no underlying transactions.
further €829,700 was paid into the firm’s euro account and €782,800 paid out in the same way.
Mr Wilcock admitted failing to act with integrity, behaving in a way likely to diminish the trust the public placed in him and the legal profession and breaching the Solicitors Accounts Rules by allowing his client account and euro account to be used as a banking facility.
He also admitted diminishing public trust and breaching the accounts rules by making transfers from client account without instructions, confirmation or authority.
The tribunal said Mr Wilcock admitted “involving himself in transactions that bore the hallmarks of money laundering” and failing to follow the guidance set out in the Money Laundering Warning Card, and by so doing failing to act with integrity and diminishing public trust.
The former sole practitioner accepted that he had breached the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 through failures in customer due diligence, retention of identity documents and “failure to monitor ongoing business relationships”.
In mitigation, counsel for Mr Wilcock argued that he had previously enjoyed a “long and distinguished career” and had secured “glowing” references from longstanding clients. No intervention in the firm had been necessary.
“However, he accepted that he had let his standards slip as he had relied on his judgement of character rather than carrying out the required checks. In particular, he had relied on verbal confirmations rather than instructions confirmed in writing to make transfers, and had become too informal in dealing with clients for whom he had acted for many years.”
Counsel said Mr Wilcock was “facing a sad end to a long career” and was “very sorry to have let down his profession, and his family”.
In deciding on sanction, the tribunal accepted that the solicitor had “four decades of unblemished professional conduct” prior to the proceedings, but as an experienced solicitor, should have known he was “becoming involved in unusual matters”.
The SDT went on: “The sums of money which had been transferred, either without proper instructions or in unusual circumstances, to or from unknown persons were very large. The conduct had continued over several years and there were a number of opportunities for the respondent to notice he was falling foul of the rules.
“He was aware of each of the transfers or transactions, and that he was not carrying out legal work in relation to the matters where money was being transferred.”
Though Mr Wilcock said he had retired, the tribunal nonetheless suspended him for 12 months, and imposed conditions, should he decide to return to practice thereafter, preventing him from acting as a sole practitioner, partner or member of an LLP, or as a COLP or COFA.
Mr Wilcock was also prevented from holding client money, being a signatory on any client account or working as a solicitor without SRA approval. He was ordered to pay costs of £12,500.
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