WHITE-COLLAR criminals should be dealt with as severely as gangs of drug dealers and racketeers, the head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) will say today.
Rosalind Wright, director of the SFO, will warn an audience of international prosecutors "to be under no illusion" about the guilt of solicitors, accountants and estate agents who help criminals profit from their crimes.
Latest figures from criminal intelligence services show that half of all money laundering cases involve funds handled by accountants or solicitors.
"If the criminal wants to use his profit, for example, to buy a house or a car, he has to introduce it into the legitimate banking system," said Ms Wright. "All too often he cannot do that without the help of other criminals who have, all too frequently, qualifications as lawyers, accountants or bankers."
SFO investigators are looking at a number of law firms where they suspect solicitors of being involved in multimillion-pound money laundering offences.
In one case, says Ms Wright, a lawyer "groomed" a solicitor in another firm to commit a string of mortgage frauds. In another, which resulted in a conviction, a solicitor helped criminals fraudulently obtain $19m (pounds 12m) from victims all over the world.
"Please be under no illusions," Ms Wright will say. "The money launderer who helps criminals enjoy the fruits of their crimes is just as much a criminal himself."
Speaking at an international conference of prosecutors in London, she will call for a change in approach to the …