A Belfast solicitor has been jailed for six months for failing to tell police about his suspicions that a client was laundering drug money.
Gavin David McCartan, 46, from Ardenlee Avenue, received a £70,250 deposit on a bungalow worth £105,000 in his capacity as a conveyancing solicitor, Belfast Crown Court heard on Monday.
Prosecuting barrister Gordon Kerr said that in July 2002, a mortgage broker working for the buyer, Cecil Walsh, "became concerned" that his client could pay such a large deposit and contacted the PSNI's Economic Crime Bureau.
He said the police obtained documents in relation to the sale where Mr Walsh had "falsely represented himself to be a self-employed car salesman" and had failed to declare his "substantial criminal record".
In a search of McCartan's office in September 2000, police officers seized documents including a bank lodgement book and later obtained a bank slip showing that £70,200 had been paid into the solicitor's business account, Mr Kerr said.
When arrested and questioned, McCartan told police he had never met Mr Walsh as he believed he could not come to his office because he had been involved in a serious road crash.
Instead, the married father-of-three said an "associate" of his client had acted as a go-between.
Mr Kerr said that when asked about the documents that Mr Walsh had to sign, McCartan told the police that the paperwork would be collected by Mr Walsh's associate and would then be returned signed by the same person.
However, McCartan did admit that some paperwork, in particular the building agreement form, was not signed in his presence even though he had authenticated it.
Mr Kerr added that when samples of Mr Walsh's handwriting were compared with the signature on the agreement form, it was concluded that "they were not signed by Mr Walsh".
When questioned about the large deposit, McCartan told officers that a "third party" had come to his office with a bag, telling him it was the deposit for the house.
McCartan claimed that he never took possession of the money and merely "filled out a lodgement slip and gave it to the associate to bank for him".
Mr Kerr said McCartan also claimed that about the same time, he contacted the mortgage broker as he had become suspicious about Mr Walsh but had "satisfied himself about Mr Walsh's antecedence".
However, the prosecution barrister added there was a "dispute" as to whether or not that had actually happened.
McCartan later pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to disclose information on 8 January 2001 in that he suspected Mr Walsh to be involved in drug trafficking.
He also admitted that between 9 - 18 November 2000, he provided the solicitors of the bungalow constructor with the building agreement which he knew to be false and so induced them to continue with the conveyancing transaction.
Mr Kerr revealed that Mr Walsh was also arrested, interviewed and later charged with a number of offences including obtaining property by deception but that he was acquitted of those charges last June by direction of the trial judge.
Defence QC Arthur Harvey said that the house sale went through and "to this day, he (Walsh) has not missed a payment on that house", adding that "no party has sustained any loss or damage, other than McCartan himself".
Mr Harvey claimed that McCartan had not committed a criminal offence but had "lapsed in terms of the professional standards to which he is bound to adhere".
He revealed that in Mr Walsh's criminal record, there was 132 driving offences as well as offences for criminal damage, obstructing and assaulting the police but there were no drug offences, adding that Walsh had been in jail towards the end of the financial transaction.
The defending barrister told the court that McCartan had been making a "modest living" from running his own small "sole practitioner" firm for the last 17 years.
Jailing McCartan for six months, Mr Justice Higgins said that while behaviour causing suspicion would vary from case to case, "the presentation of very large sums of money in cash, in the absence of some verifiable good reason, must be one of them".
The judge told McCartan that the public were entitled to expect officers of the court to be "beyond reproach" and that solicitors who became suspicious of money laundering "have a duty to tell the police".