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Convicted conveyancer struck off for facilitiating mortgage fraud

SDT: Due diligence failure

A conveyancer who recklessly facilitated a mortgage fraud before being convicted of three money laundering offences and then failing to surrender to bail has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said that, along with his criminal convictions, Stephen Michael Oakley had clocked up four previous tribunal appearances for a range of rule breaches.

Approving an agreement between Mr Oakley and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the tribunal heard that the solicitor failed to carry out due diligence as to the source and origin of third-party money used in the purchase of a commercial property in Cardiff back in 2010.

The failure “facilitated a mortgage fraud and the dishonest acquisition” of the property by his clients. Mr Oakley was a director of Cardiff law firm Oakley & Davies at the time, and its money laundering reporting officer.

The SRA said that while the conveyancer did not act dishonestly or in the knowledge that he was facilitating mortgage fraud, he was “reckless in his complete failure to investigate the source of funds”.

It described Mr Oakley’s failure to surrender to bail as a “personal failure”, which lasted only a day, but “equally he did not surrender himself voluntarily”.

The solicitor pleaded guilty in November 2018 at Cardiff Crown Court to three counts of failing to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.

He was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay £7,200 as a contribution towards prosecution costs.

Sentencing him, Her Honour Judge Rees said that, although there was no suggestion that he was going to benefit himself from the money laundering, Mr Oakley showed “a cavalier attitude” to his responsibilities.

The solicitor, born in 1960 and admitted in 1985, was a partner at Oakley & Davies from 2001 before it ceased trading a decade later.

Mr Oakley told the SRA he had not practised since 2011, when he was suspended for three years for failure to account for interest on client money, failure to co-operate with the SRA and indemnity insurance failures.

Before that he was fined £2,500 in 2009 for failing to comply with an undertaking given to a mortgagee client.

As long ago as 1994, Mr Oakley was suspended for three months for offences including failure to respond to what was then the Solicitors Complaints Bureau, failing to comply with undertakings and practising uncertified.

Back in 1990 he was fined £2,500 for another range of offences, including breaches of the accounts rules and failing to exercise proper supervision.

Mr Oakley admitted his most recent offences of failing to comply with the money laundering regulations when acting in the purchase of property and acting recklessly in doing so, and failing to surrender to bail.

The SRA said Mr Oakley’s clients had suffered “no adverse consequence” from his breaches, but he had facilitated mortgage fraud, which adversely affected the mortgage provider.

He was ordered to pay £2,000 in costs.