Solicitors, like other professionals, are obliged to comply with the procedures laid down in the above Act, and we have to involve our clients. Our first step is to identify the client, and for this we need to see your original passport, driving licence or similar documentation with a photograph, together with evidence of where you live. A recent utility bill less than three months old is normally required. Armed with this, we can open a file and begin work. As a matter of policy we also ask you to provide your National Insurance and Tax Reference Number. During the course of the transaction, every member of the solicitors’ firm is obliged to watch out for any offence under the Act and to report an offence to the firm’s Money Laundering Officer. It is that Officer’s duty to make a formal report to the Serious Organised Crimes Agency (“SOCA”).
Money laundering is the process by which the proceeds of crime, and the true ownership of those proceeds, is changed so that they seem to come from a legitimate source. The system set up under the legislation is aimed at preventing criminals from being able to benefit from their actions, and at taking the profit out of crime. The Act is aimed at defeating terrorism, which depends upon accumulating large sums of money and disguising the source of that money. The legislation sets up barriers and creates systems, like the identification of the sources of money and creates systems to identify suspicious transactions. It places on solicitors an absolute duty to watch out for suspicious transactions, to keep records of transactions and to report them; a solicitor commits an offence punishable by imprisonment, if he fails in this duty without reasonable excuse or if he warns or tips off the offender.
The obligations imposed on solicitors and their clients by this legislation are wide ranging and onerous, and clients are asked to help by co-operating in providing identification of themselves and of the money involved in their transactions. Specifically, we will not accept or make large payments in cash, and would ask that all identification is made available at the very beginning of the transaction. At all times for payments in excess of £250.00 we will require payment to be made through a UK banking source. We are now required to satisfy ourselves as to the source of any monies utilised for any transaction. As a consequence we may be obliged to make enquiries of you for that purpose.
Legitimate transactions have nothing to fear from this legislation, which is welcome if it helps to defeat terrorism.