Queensland’s criminal watchdog chief has called for professionals – predominantly lawyers and accountants – to be immediately stood down if they are charged with “serious criminal offences’’ in connection with “enabling and facilitating criminal activity.’’
Chairperson of the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission, Alan MacSporran QC, told a recent Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee (PCCC) meeting “organised criminal networks’’ were becoming more sophisticated and using lawyers and accountants who were “deliberately and knowingly advising organised crime (operations) and corrupt activities.’’
Under questioning by PCCC Chair and State LNP MP Tim Nicholls, Mr MacSporran said he believed “money laundering’’ by white collar professionals was “very prevalent’’ and that any person charged with serious offences should be prevented from continuing in their professional capacity until their matters were resolved.
During the 19 June hearing, Mr Nicholls said to Mr MacSporran: “In your report you highlight four ongoing major crime investigations focused on the alleged involvement of professionals – lawyers and accountants, predominantly – in enabling and facilitating criminal activity.’’
“In public (news) reports there seems to be an increasing number of reports of investigations of that type occurring.
“How prevalent do you believe it is that in Queensland people are using professionals to facilitate crime – money laundering, the use of trust accounts and those sorts of more sophisticated mechanisms?”
Mr MacSporran replied: “I think it is very prevalent. As the trend in the public reporting … indicates, we are uncovering more of it.”
“I think it has been present for a significant period. I think the trend we have seen is that organised criminal networks are becoming more and more sophisticated. They have very sophisticated business models.
“Of course, for that purpose they do need to operate in that space and in that way with the best professional advice. They are well resourced and they can pay for it. That is the attraction, unfortunately.
“It does not excuse it, but that is the attraction to professionals to change sides, as it were, and give professional advice to facilitate this sort behaviour.’’
As the hearing continued, Mr Nichols asked what steps could or should be taken once a lawyer or accountant is charged with serious criminal offences.
Mr MacSporran: “Frankly, I think there needs to be more done in the disciplinary space.”
“If a lawyer is charged with a criminal offence involving breach of trust and so forth with criminal activity, I fail to see how it is in the best of interests of any client of theirs to continue to practise openly in public – for instance, barristers who might be charged with serious offences continuing to conduct jury trials where you suspect that the jurors would know that the counsel is appearing for the client and are themselves charged with a serious criminal offence.
“That cannot be, in any shape or form, in the best interests of the client. It is not a case of judging guilt or innocence; it is a case of protecting the public and the clients and protecting, more importantly, public confidence in the legal profession more generally.
“It is not that there has ever been a large degree of confidence in the legal profession for reasons that we, as lawyers, too readily recognise. However, this sort of behaviour does nothing to promote public confidence.
“My proposal would be something like standing down lawyers from practice until these matters are resolved in the public interest. It is not about their guilt.’’