A former law firm owner who failed to update its anti-money laundering manual since 2003 has been handed a five-figure fine. The Solicitors Regulation Authority said Richard Lionel Jones had breached regulations for ‘longer than was reasonable’ and demonstrated a pattern of non-compliance.
Jones was owner and manager of Brinley Morris Rees & Jones, based in Llanelli. He was also the compliance officer and person responsible for anti-money laundering policies.
In January 2020 he completed a declaration on behalf of the firm in response to a request from the SRA, stating that it had a fully compliant risk assessment which took account of information and updates published by the regulator. The form included references to the firm’s customers, the areas it operated in, its products and services and transactions.
Five months later, the SRA began a forensic investigation and found that the firm had not verified the source of client funds in conveyancing matters.
There was no firm-wide risk assessment as required by regulations updated in 2017 and the firm’s office manual referred only to 2003 money laundering regulations. No separate money laundering policies were in place, the SRA confirmed.
The SRA found that Jones failed to ensure the firm had in place a compliant and comprehensive risk assessment, ignoring policies and requirements updated in 2007 and then 2017. The firm failed to conduct any source of funds checks on any client files and did not monitor transactions as they progressed. His declaration in 2020 that the firm was compliant was found to be inaccurate information.
Jones was fined £14,100 and ordered to pay costs of £1,350. The regulator said he was responsible for his own conduct which was serious and had the potential to cause harm to the public interest and to public confidence in the legal profession.
There was no evidence that money laundering occurred as a result of the non-compliance. Jones is now employed at a London firm where he holds no compliance roles.
Brinley Morris Rees & Jones was shut down by the SRA last June after its parent company Law Direct Limited entered administration.
Source: The Law Society Gazette, 18th January 2024