Objection to ONDCP’s plan to inspect clients’ records

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One law firm has written to the Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association indicating that it will not allow the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP) to inspect its clients’ records.
Writing on behalf of Daniels, Phillips, and Associates, attorney at law Warren Cassell said that the firm’s stance is based upon the fact that the ONDCP is a law enforcement body empowered to investigate and is already investigating some of the same clients. 
The anti-money laundering agency is taking aim at the country’s attorneys in its ramped-up efforts to crackdown on money laundering. The agency will start examining their offices shortly, to ensure that those conducting financial activity as a business, are conforming to anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism regulations.
Lawyers in the country were informed about the development in a recent fraud meeting hosted by the ONDCP and in a recent email that was sent by the President of the Bar Association, Lenworth Johnson.
In the correspondence, Johnson reminded the lawyers that under the Money Laundering Prevention Act, an attorney-at-law who conducts financial activity as a business is deemed a financial institution.
That same law, requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions or activity, with serious penalties – a fine or imprisonment – for not doing so. The Act also provides for the ONDCP, to examine financial institutions to access their compliance. The agency is also to obtain search warrants from a judge to search the offices of financial institutions.
This calls into question, lawyer-client privilege, which the Bar Association president said in his email to members, was raised with the ONDCP at the same fraud meeting, at which the agency announced the pending checks.
He said that the ONDCP replied that the Act overrides privilege for attorneys who conduct financial activity as a business.
Section 25 of the relevant legislation provides that, subject to the Constitution, the Act shall have effect, notwithstanding any obligation as to secrecy or other disclosure of information imposed by any law or otherwise.
According to Johnson, the question is whether legal professional privilege is a fundamental right guaranteed to the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda and not to be undermined unless reasonably required in a democratic society.
He said in the correspondence that the Bar Council has begun research into the issue of attorney-client privilege. He also emphasised that the Bar Association accepts and strongly supports the view that it is desirable to keep “dirty” money out of the financial system and it supports every lawful effort dedicated to that end.
Meanwhile, Cassell said that the issue of conflict of interest also comes to the forefront.
He questioned how the ONDCP can be investigating lawyers’ clients and at the same time be intent upon searching the files of the said clients. 
The lawyer, said that his law firm’s position is that the contents of their clients’ files and advice are protected by legal privilege.
The firm said that any inspection will give the impression that lawyers are collaborating with law enforcement agencies and this threatens to undermine confidence in attorneys. 

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