Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

If true, this is a worrying, if not downright dangerous, development. It’s no
wonder that Peter Hollis, chairman of the ICAEW’s general practitioner panel, is
calling on these pages for affected readers to come forward (see letters).

Let’s assume you’re a one man band in the process of taking on new clients.
One of them moves some money that strikes you as strange. Under the law you are
compelled to inform SOCA via a suspicious activity report.

Somehow the fact that a report has been made and its source gets back to the
client. Not surprisingly, he is upset that his financial affairs have been
spilled to the police by the person he believed would treat his affairs
confidentially. At best, he will cease dealing with the accountant and at worst
he could become violent.

The money laundering laws that brought into play the reporting of suspicious
activity were hotly debated by accountants who believed the administrative
burden and responsibility placed upon by the rules were inequitable.

Now it seems accountants cannot rely upon their reports being accepted in
confidence, the very condition their participation relied upon. It’s a no-win
position for them. Make the suspicion reports and risk the client finding out
who tipped off the police? Or, refuse to make the report and run the risk of
breaking the law?

Clearly assurances are needed from SOCA that the source of reports will not
be routinely passed on, and we also need some idea how many accountants are
affected. Without this the position of accountants will be intolerable.

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