The first solicitor ever prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for ‘tipping off’ a client about a money laundering investigation has been convicted.
William Osmond, 69, co-founder and senior partner of London firm Osmond & Osmond – as well as its money laundering reporting officer – will be sentenced at the end of the month.
He denied the charges but was convicted by a jury at the Old Bailey after nine hours of deliberation.
He was granted bail until sentence on the condition of continuing to reside at his address in Taunton, Somerset.
The SFO said that, in 2018, its investigators made covert enquiries about businessman James Redding Ramsay, Mr Osmond’s client, who had paid £4m toward the purchase of a Mayfair property.
Mr Osmond immediately contacted his client to inform him about the investigation and went on to meet Mr Ramsay to discuss the matter across the next five months, including by flying out to Mr Ramsay’s home in Malta the following week and meeting him at a West London private dining club.
This was despite being repeatedly warned by the SFO not to tell Mr Ramsay.
Prosecutor James Waddington KC told the court that Mr Ramsay came to the SFO’s attention through its investigation into Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which ran from 2013 until it was dropped in August this year.
Further, in response to an SFO request, the solicitor supplied a fake ‘letter of engagement’ that set out his role as solicitor for a British Virgin Islands company which was purchased by Mr Ramsay and used to move funds for the purchase of the London property.
SFO investigators searched Mr Osmond’s office in 2019, revealing five pages of handwritten notes on his discussions with Mr Ramsay and computer files that showed his forgery of the letter.
The solicitor, who had acted for Mr Ramsay for more than 20 years, earlier told the court it was “traumatising” being arrested in 2019 after so many years as a solicitor.
He said: “It was a traumatic day. It was in a conference room at Temple Chambers talking to my junior partner and there was a knock on the door and SFO officers were there followed by a huge number of other people including a great number of police.
“I was arrested almost straight away. I had spent all these years as a solicitor and then had to spend the night in a cell.”
A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said: “We have been aware of this issue for some time, but it has been on hold pending the SFO’s case. Now that the case has concluded, we will collect all relevant information before deciding on next steps.”
According to the website of Osmond & Osmond – which is based in the heart of legal London – Mr Osmond qualified in 1979 and worked for a number of City law firms before founding the firm in 2002 with his father John, who is now retired from practice.