Law Society wins money laundering review

The Law Society has won another battle in its war to change the draft money laundering regulations causing headaches among City lawyers.

At a meeting with Law Society president Fiona Wolf this morning, Ed Balls MP said that the Government had agreed to make significant changes to the definition of ‘beneficial ownership’ in the draft bill, which has been the focus of objection from City firms.

Balls said that the Treasury would now consult on an extended definition of beneficial ownership in order to give the necessary clarity. The Society has two weeks to review the re-drafted definition, which will be provided to relevant stakeholders in the next few days.

Woolf said: “The Law Society has long expressed concerns that the directive’s wording did not reflect the UK’s common law usage of trusts.

“Trusts are used extensively in everyday life [and] the definition of a beneficial owner was so unclear that it made it impossible for a solicitor to know who should be the subject of client due diligence. It would have placed a huge burden on solicitors and deterred investment into the UK.”

As first reported by The Lawyer this week (4 June), the Society recently won support from European Commissioner Charlie McCreevey for its campaign to change the bill.

In a letter received by the Society on Friday (1 June), McCreevey confirmed that the Treasury did not need to copy the European Community directive on money laundering verbatim when transposing it into national law, emphasising that the essence of a directive is that it could be adapted to fit a national legal framework.

The Society had provided the EU with legal advice from Matrix Chambers, which said the definition so lacked clarity that it was unlawful and could not be fixed by professional guidance.