The first solicitor ever prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for ‘tipping off’ a client about a money laundering investigation has been handed a suspended prison sentence.
William Osmond was sentenced to nine months in jail, suspended for 18 months. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work and pay £5,000 toward the SFO’s costs.
Mr Osmond, 69, co-founder and senior partner of London firm Osmond & Osmond – as well as its money laundering reporting officer – denied the charges but was convicted by a jury at the Old Bailey earlier this month after nine hours of deliberation.
Mark Fenhalls, KC, defending, said: “He will have to inform the Solicitors Regulation Authority of the outcome and resign from his firm – whether they accept the resignation or not is a different matter. He wants some time to put the affairs of his firm in order.”
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.
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.
Passing sentencing, Judge Rebecca Trowler KC, said: “The offence of forgery is often dealt with by way of a custodial sentence. Many instances of forgery are for many different reasons, such as for financial gain.
“Only one false document was produced, the means of production were not sophisticated, there was no substantial harm and it appears to have been caused by panic.
“On the other hand, the seriousness of this offence of forgery is that you forged such a document and you would know as a lawyer that it was a criminal offence.”
The judge told Mr Osmond he would “almost inevitably be unable to practise in future, even if you wanted to”.
She exercised her discretion in favour of suspension in light of the mitigation put forward – including character references – that the fact that “you do not present a risk of danger to the public”.
“Immediate custody may have a negative impact on your wife and on your business interests on your firm.”
Matthew Wagstaff, joint head of fraud, bribery and corruption at the SFO, said: “This solicitor abused his trusted, professional status to knowingly break the law. No one is above the law, and we will pursue anyone who attempts to obstruct our investigations.”