"As a result, we'll all have to take more online AML courses. Great.

Ashfords has been fined over £100,000 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for breaching anti-money laundering rules, although there was no suggestion that any actual money laundering took place.

The breaches arose when the national firm acted on the purchase of three properties during 2017 and 2018. Ashfords, which has offices in London and the South-West, was instructed by a limited company, 'Client A', on two of the transactions regarding properties worth £550,000 and £3.2m. 

In an agreement published by the SRA, it was noted that the firm's compliance team raised questions about the ultimate beneficial owner of Client A. And that the source of funds from the client "was not fully understood or evidenced and had changed during the transaction." There was no written record as to whether these issues were fully resolved before the transactions completed.

Ashfords carried out its own investigation and undertook a retrospective search, which "identified a potential link between one of the purported beneficial owners and an entity subject to UK sanctions," said the SRA.

For the third conveyancing transaction, the firm was instructed by a UK charity, 'Client B', regarding a property purchase worth over £3m. The client did not have sufficient funds to complete the purchase, and a trustee of the charity provided the balance via a loan.

However, Ashfords had not established the source of "funds information" for the financing and had not obtained the necessary "customer due diligence documentation in relation to the trustee loaning the funds,” said the SRA. 

The SRA said the firm had breached the 2017 Money Laundering Regulations and failed to assess the purpose of all three transactions, and failed to carry out enhanced customer due diligence despite the complex corporate structure of Client A and high-value nature of the transaction. The firm admitted that it had failed to behave in a way that maintains public trust.

In mitigation, the regulator noted that the firm said that it had the procedures and controls in place, but they were not followed in these matters. And that there was "no suggestion that the transactions actually involved money laundering or any financial crime". The regulator also noted that the firm has reported the matter, and assisted the regulator throughout its investigation

The SRA deemed that a fine was an appropriate sanction, as the conduct had the "potential to cause significant harm", although there was no evidence that any harm had been suffered. The regulator noted that there was a low risk of repetition, as the firm had "made significant investment in its AML processes and compliance team" since the incidents. 

The regulator fined Ashfords £101,357 plus the SRA's investigation costs of £1,350.

A source with knowledge of the matter told RollOnFriday that although the firm didn't actually allow any money laundering to occur, the point is not "whether or not someone snuck through the door, it’s about if you were watching the door in the first place". The source said that as the firm didn't take this required action, even when it challenged itself, this was a clear case of a "systemic failure".

An Ashfords spokesperson told RollOnFriday: “We self-reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2019 potential breaches of the money laundering regulations on three transactions that were carried out in 2017 and 2018. We have assisted the SRA with their subsequent investigation throughout, admitted the breaches from the outset and have accepted the outcome. We were registered as an ABS (Alternative Business Structure) at the time so there is a higher threshold in relation to the SRA’s fining powers.  We were scored at the lower end with the full discount applied." 

The spokesperson added: “Since our self report we have made substantial improvements to our anti-money laundering processes including through a more rigorous centralised client onboarding process, revised policies & procedures and ongoing investment in our training & education programme across the business”.

“We take our responsibilities under the Money Laundering Regulations and the SRA Principles and Code of Conduct extremely seriously.”

By contrast, the Ashfords lawyer who defecated around a Premier Inn was not fined. However he did have to clean it up. 


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Anonymous 01 December 23 10:24

Ashfords again?

Last year a lawyer from Ashfords had a 💩 in front of people in a hotel.

There’s a theme here.

Anonymous Anonymous 01 December 23 11:04

Punishment not severe enough. Fines against legal firms need to be high in order to deter other companies from breaking the law.

Anonymous 01 December 23 12:01

@11:04 ...fines need to be high enough to meet the liabilities of other companies breaking the law.

Ashfords should have its own weekly ROF blog.

Anonymous 12865432 07 December 23 12:29

Fine should be quadruple that. We need to prevent other firms from even thinking about beaches.

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