Warning notice

Money laundering and terrorist financing


Issued on 8 December 2014


Whilst this document does not form part of the SRA Handbook, the SRA may have regard to it when exercising its regulatory functions.

Who is this warning notice relevant to?

This warning notice is relevant to all regulated persons who have a legal obligation to ensure that they:

  • do not facilitate money laundering or terrorist financing; and
  • do report any suspicious transactions.

This notice highlights warning signs which you should be aware of, and which may require you to take action in order to avoid committing a criminal offence or breaching your professional obligations under the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Handbook.

Our concerns

The SRA supervises those it regulates for compliance with money laundering legislation. It has identified an increasing number of firms failing to have adequate systems and controls to prevent, detect and report money laundering.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an independent inter-governmental body, issued a report in 2013 highlighting the vulnerabilities of legal professionals to money laundering and terrorist financing, in which it identified 42 'Red Flag Indicators'. Being aware of these indicators or warning signs of money laundering and terrorist financing should assist you in applying a risk based approach to meeting your obligations under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 and other money laundering legislation. If red flag indicators are present in your dealings with a client, you should ask further questions of your client, or make a suspicious activity report to your firm's nominated officer or the National Crime Agency (NCA), as appropriate.

Our expectations

We expect all firms and individuals regulated by us to comply with money laundering legislation including taking appropriate steps to conduct customer due diligence (CDD) when required to do so by the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. We expect firms and individuals to be aware of, and act properly upon, warning signs that a transaction may be suspicious.

The warning signs highlighted by FATF (and expanded on in Chapter 11 of the Law Society's Practice Note on Money Laundering) include:

If the client:

  • Is secretive or evasive about who they are, the reason for the transaction, or the source of funds.
  • Uses an intermediary, or does not appear to be directing the transaction, or appears to be disguising the real client.
  • Avoids personal contact without good reason.
  • Refuses to provide information or documentation or the documentation provided is suspicious.
  • Has criminal associations.
  • Has unusual level of knowledge about money laundering processes.
  • Does not appear to have a business association with the other parties but appears to be connected to them.

If the source of funds is unusual, such as:

  • Large cash payments.
  • Unexplained payments from a third party.
  • Large private funding that does not fit the business or personal profile of the payer.
  • Loans from non-institutional lenders.
  • Use of corporate assets to fund private expenditure of individuals.
  • Use of multiple accounts or foreign accounts.

If the transaction has unusual features, such as:

  • Size, nature, frequency or manner of execution.
  • Early repayment of mortgages/loans.
  • Short repayment periods for borrowing.
  • An excessively high value is placed on assets/securities.
  • It is potentially loss making.
  • Involving unnecessarily complicated structures or steps in transaction.
  • Repetitive instructions involving common features/parties or back to back transactions with assets rapidly changing value.
  • The transaction is unusual for the client, type of business or age of the business.
  • Unexplained urgency, requests for short cuts or changes to the transaction particularly at last minute.
  • Use of a Power of Attorney in unusual circumstances.
  • No obvious commercial purpose to the transaction.
  • Instructions to retain documents or to hold money in your client account.
  • Abandoning transaction and/or requests to make payments to third parties or back to source.
  • Monies passing directly between the parties.
  • Litigation which is settled too easily or quickly and with little involvement by you.

If the instructions are unusual for your business such as:

Outside your or your firm's area of expertise or normal business, or if client is not local to you and there is no explanation as to why a firm in your locality has been chosen.

  • Willingness of client to pay high fees.
  • Unexplained changes to legal advisers.
  • Your client appears unconcerned or lacks knowledge about the transaction.

If there are geographical concerns such as:

The SRA principles

You have a duty to ensure you comply with money laundering legislation. Failure to do so may result in you breaching one or more of the SRA principles, including:

  • Principle 1 - Uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice.
  • Principle 2 - Act with integrity.
  • Principle 3 - Not allow your independence to be compromised.
  • Principle 6 - Behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services.
  • Principle 7 - Comply with your legal and regulatory obligations.
  • Principle 8 - Run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governances and sound financial and risk management principles.

The SRA mandatory outcomes

You should have regard to the specific outcomes under the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, in particular Outcome 7.5 - to comply with your legal obligations under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002, the Terrorism Act (TACT) 2000 and the Money Laundering Regulations 2007. You must ensure that you do not facilitate money laundering, even when money does not pass through your firm's accounts. Your firm should have appropriate policies and procedures in place to protect it from being used for money laundering or terrorist financing Outcomes 7.2 and 7.3.

Enforcement action

Failure to comply with this warning notice may lead to disciplinary action, criminal prosecution or both.

Further guidance

From us

For guidance on making requests to proceed with suspicious transactions, see our Warning notice: Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing – Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs)

For guidance on conduct issues, contact the Professional Ethics Guidance Team.

From others

FATF report on the vulnerabilities of legal professionals

Detailed guidance on your obligations and on the warning signs of money laundering is available on the Law Society website.

Law Society practice note: Anti-money laundering

For advice on anti-money laundering, contact the Law Society Practice Advice Service.

Please use www.sra.org.uk/aml to link to this page.