THREE former lawyers and two other men who masterminded a £1.48million bank and property money-laundering operation have been jailed for a total of 30 years and four months.
Solicitors Iain Robertson, Alastair Blackwood and David Lyons along with Mohammed Aziz and Robert Ferguson, were handed the sentences by Lord Richardson at the High Court in Glasgow.
All five were found guilty last month following a nine-week trial that was triggered by a Law Society investigation into the Paisley legal firm Robertson & Ross. They were convicted of fraud and multiple charges under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Robertson, Lyons and Aziz were also convicted on charges of being involved in serious organised crime.
Robertson (69), of Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, was imprisoned for eight years while Blackwood, of Dunlop in Ayrshire, and Lyons (71), also of Kilmacolm, were each jailed for seven years.
Aziz (61), of Partick, Glasgow, received a seven-year sentence and Ferguson (67), of Thornliebank, Glasgow, was jailed for 16 months.
Prosecutors told jurors the case centred on four transactions carried out between May 2015 and July 2016.
The first transaction involved a £79,340 stolen cheque due to be paid to a law firm in Jersey. The next was £240,000 from a fraudulent house sale in London.
The third transaction saw £985,000 stolen from the hacked bank account of an individual.
And the final illegal activity was uncovered after Robertson claimed to be acting for a man who wanted to sell his home in Essex.
The court heard that the “seller” was said to be staying at a flat that turned out to be Ferguson’s address. A total of £181,786 was made from the fraudulent sale.
In each transaction, the proceeds were funnelled through the client bank account held by Robertson’s firm in Paisley, Robertson and Ross Limited, and false records were created to make them appear legitimate.
Furthermore, fake papers and fake IDs –- including a passport and driver’s licence –- were collated in a bid to cover up the crimes.
The Law Society raised concerns about several of these transactions and they then alerted the police to potential illegal activity.
The trial heard that lawyer Robertson, who has been suspended by the Law Society along with Blackwood, was at the heart of the money-laundering scheme since he had access to his firm’s client account.
Laura Buchan, procurator for specialist casework, welcomed the sentences and said it was crucial that the public had faith and trust in lawyers.
She said: “The public rightly must have confidence in lawyers to uphold the law. These individuals fell far short of the standards of professional conduct the public are entitled to expect from members of the legal profession.
“Money laundering is not a victimless crime and plays an integral role in a complex, large-scale operation which facilitates the criminal activity of others.
“I hope these convictions and the sentence send a strong message to others involved in this kind of criminal behaviour and demonstrates the ability of police and prosecutors to investigate, prepare and prosecute serious and organised crime of this nature.
“We will continue working with the police and other agencies as a member of Scotland’s Serious and Organised Crime Taskforce to pursue those who profit from proceeds of crime.”
David Gordon, convener of the Law Society of Scotland regulatory committee, said: “It is vital that people can continue to place their trust in the legal profession.
“As the professional body and regulator for Scottish solicitors, we take our regulatory role very seriously and will intervene and take any necessary action to protect clients where we suspect a solicitor has failed to meet the high professional standards expected.
“In this case the Law Society acted to protect clients when serious issues were identified at Paisley law firm Roberton and Ross. The Society suspended two solicitors at the firm from practice and successfully petitioned the Court of Session to appoint a judicial factor to protect the firm’s clients and the public interest.
“Money laundering harms individuals, communities and society and is linked to crimes that cause human misery and suffering –- from people trafficking, to illegal drugs and gun smuggling.
“The Law Society has robust anti-money laundering measures in place to protect the public and ensure the legitimate services provided by legal practices are not misused for criminal purposes. This outcome in court highlights the importance of taking swift action and ensuring that concerns were reported to the authorities.”