Clyde & Co criticised by SDT for ‘systemic failure’ after fines for money laundering breaches

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Clyde & Co has been criticised by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for a “systemic failure”, following the firm’s recent fine for failing to comply with accounting rules.

The full judgment in the case – which also saw three Clydes partners fined £10,000 for breaching money laundering rules – criticises Clydes for allowing its name to be “unintentionally lent to what appeared to have been a fraudulent financial scheme”.

The judgment states that as a global firm, Clydes “should set an example to the profession”, adding that “whilst its failings were not deliberate, they were unacceptable”.

The case saw Clydes fined £50,000, and projects partner Nick Purnell and corporate partners Christopher Duffy and Simon Gamblin fined £10,000.

The breaches focused on transactions that involved the payment of a fee by an investor to the firm, pursuant to consultancy agreements under which the client promised to secure high value banking facilities for the investor concerned.

Clydes and the partners concerned were criticised by the tribunal, which said: “Each of the respondents had let down the profession and their actions would tend to diminish rather than maintain the trust the public would place in them and in the provision of legal services. The defaults in questions were particularly glaring as the firm was a large and, previously, reputable firm; it would be expected to set an example to other firms in its compliance systems.”

According to the judgment: “While no judicial determination had been made, the scheme appeared to have involved a fraud by [the client]. By acting as escrow agent, the firm unintentionally lent credibility to the fraudulent scheme.

“The fact that there was a significant risk that the respondents had given credibility to possibly fraudulent schemes and/or which may have involved money laundering, was itself sufficient to cause damage to the reputation of the individuals and the firm, as well as the profession as a whole.”

A Clydes spokesperson said: “We hold ourselves to the highest professional and ethical standards and take responsibility for ensuring we meet them.

“We acknowledge the SDT’s judgement that in three matters that occurred in 2013 and prior, we did not meet those high standards and the firm and three of its partners did act in breach of the SRA Accounts Rules and The Money Laundering Regulations, which also led to breaches of certain SRA Principles and Code.

“We believe it to be clear and the SDT’s judgement does not dispute, that any mistakes made were honest and inadvertent. It is not alleged that the firm or the three partners lacked integrity, probity or trustworthiness, or laundered or misappropriated money.

“We have worked constructively with our regulator, the SRA, and we are confident that the circumstances which led to these breaches could not happen again. We have since reviewed and strengthened a number of aspects of our approach to risk management.”

The case, which was brought by the  Solicitors Regulation Authority, was determined by the SDT on 21 March. Clydes was represented by David Langley, a lawyer in the firm’s in-house risk team.