A DISGRACED lawyer has been jailed for four years for his role in laundering £1.3 million of dirty money for a notorious fugitive fraudster.
Richard Housley, 57, once the senior partner in a successful law firm, helped Michael Voudouri, 45, and his associates to hide cash thorough a Europe-wide VAT “carousel” scam.
Voudouri has a previous conviction for VAT fraud and was given a four-year prison term in 2004, but has gone on the run to avoid sentencing for his latest crimes, leaving Housley and Caroline Laing, 55, a bookkeeper, to appear in the dock at the High Court in Edinburgh.
Housley, of Edinburgh, was told by a judge that solicitors were trusted by law enforcement agencies and colleagues to act with honesty and integrity.
“You have fallen short of the standards required of a member of the legal profession… no sentence other than imprisonment is appropriate,” said Lord Tyre.
Laing, of Denny, Stirlingshire, was jailed for two years and six months. She had been involved in laundering £800,000.
Lord Tyre said Laing had given evidence at her trial that she had been an “unwitting victim” of Voudouri’s dishonesty. However, he added, the jury clearly had not accepted her account.
“They were unanimously of the view that you knew or at least suspected that the funds which were passing through your personal bank account represented the proceeds of crime,” said Lord Tyre.
Voudouri, from Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, was accused initially with laundering £48.2m in connection with Glasgow-based Q-Tech Distribution, but he pleaded guilty in October last year to the reduced sum of £10.3m. He was allowed bail, but disappeared before another court appearance and a warrant for his arrest was issued and remains in force.
Housley and Laing denied involvement, but were found guilty after a three-month trial. Housley was also convicted of income tax fraud, in claiming that his wife was an employee of his firm.
Defence counsel Mark Moir said Housley, a first offender, had been senior partner in a very successful law firm, Gebals, of Bathgate in West Lothian, but had been unable to work since the money laundering investigation began in 2005 and the charges remained hanging over him.
“He will, following conviction, never be able to practise as a solicitor again,” said Mr Moir.
It was clear from the evidence, added Mr Moir, that Housley had not benefited personally from the laundered money.
George Pollock, solicitor-advocate for Laing, said she had not been in trouble before, and had suffered a heart attack while awaiting trial. She was the main carer of her mother, who was in her nineties.
“She was interviewed by HMRC in 2005 and the last eight years of her life have been blighted by the prospect of imprisonment. It will have a devastating effect on her and those close to her,” said Mr Pollock.
Lord Tyre told Housley: “You carried out these transactions in the course of your professional business as a solicitor in a firm of which you were the senior partner, the cash-room partner and the money-laundering reporting officer.
“The risk of use of solicitors’ client accounts for laundering the proceeds of crime is well recognised.
“The solicitor’s role as a gatekeeper in preventing money laundering is not limited to carrying out formal identity checks.
“It is of much greater importance that members of the legal profession act with honesty and integrity when implementing the statutory obligations imposed upon them by the proceeds of crime legislation.
“They are trusted to do so by the law enforcement agencies and by their fellow lawyers. In relation to the matters before me you have fallen short of the standard required of a member of the legal profession.”
He told Laing: “By allowing your bank account to be used to receive and disburse monies on behalf of Michael Voudouri and his companies, you facilitated the re-entry of proceeds of crime into the financial system.”