Methods and Trends

Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Vulnerabilities of Legal Professionals

Criminals seek out the involvement of legal professionals in their ML/TF activities, sometimes because a legal professional is required to complete certain transactions, and sometimes to access specialised legal and notarial skills and services which could assist the laundering of the proceeds of crime and the funding of terrorism. 

The report identifies a number of ML/TF methods that commonly employ or, in some countries, require the services of a legal professional. Inherently these activities pose ML/TF risk.  When clients seek to misuse the legal professional’s services in these areas, even law abiding legal professionals may be vulnerable. The methods are:

  • misuse of client accounts
  • purchase of real property
  • creation of trusts and companies
  • management of trusts and companies
  • managing client affairs and making introductions
  • undertaking certain litigation
  • setting up and managing charities

The report also describes red flag indicators of ML/TF which may be useful to legal professionals, self-regulatory bodies (SRBs), competent authorities and law enforcement agencies. 

In this report, over 100 case studies referring to these and other ML/TF methods were taken into account. Some of these case studies show that not all legal professionals are undertaking client due diligence (CDD) when required. Even where due diligence is obtained, if the legal professional lacks understanding of the ML/TF vulnerabilities and red flag indicators, they are less able to use that information to prevent the misuse of their services. 

The report also challenges the perception sometimes held by criminals, and at times supported by claims from legal professionals themselves, that legal professional privilege or professional secrecy would lawfully enable a legal professional to continue to act for a client who was engaging in criminal activity and/or prevent law enforcement from accessing information to enable the client to be prosecuted.

Report