The High Court has rejected the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) bid to increase the sanction imposed on a solicitor convicted of transferring criminal property after being taken in by a charismatic conman posing as the Pope’s banker.
Buddika Kadurugamuwa was naïve but not dishonest, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said in explaining why it considered a £2,000 fine sufficient penalty for her misconduct.
Ms Kadurugamuwa received a six-month suspended sentence and ordered to carry out 125 hours of unpaid work after transferring £111,400 into an HSBC account in her husband’s name when Luis Nobre told her he was closing down his account and needed to move the money.
It turned out that the money came from a €100m (£73m) scam Mr Nobre had pulled off. He is now serving a 14-year jail sentence.
The SRA told the High Court that Ms Kadurugamuwa should have been either struck off or suspended for her misconduct.
It argued that the tribunal had sent a message that the profession regarded this kind of offending as trivial.
The ruling has not yet been published, according to a report on Lawtel, the court found that the tribunal had adopted the correct approach to sanctions.
“It had considered mitigation and concluded that the misconduct was serious because it involved the commission of a criminal offence of which K had been convicted and involved, admitted and proved breaches of the principles, but that taking into account her level of culpability, the harm caused and the aggravating and mitigating factors, the level of seriousness was towards the lower end of the spectrum.
“The question was whether the financial sanction was wrong and outside the appropriate bracket. In the absence of an error of law, the High Court had to pay considerable respect to the tribunal’s sentencing decisions.
“The tribunal stated that the sanction it imposed would always be case specific. Although the issues were finely balanced, the court concluded with some hesitation that on the facts the sanction imposed was not outside the ambit of the tribunal’s powers.”
An SRA spokesman said: “We treat any matter which could raise money laundering issues extremely seriously. In this instance the solicitor had already been found guilty of the criminal offence of transferring criminal property. We are disappointed with the decision not to increase the sanction.”