ONDCP to examine law firms’ clients

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The Office of National Drug Control Policy – ONDCP – is taking aim at the country’s attorneys in its ramped-up crack down 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.
This is what the Antigua and Barbuda Bar Association told its members in a recent email.
The email is from the Bar Association president, Lenworth Johnson.
He reminds 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.
The Bar Association president says in his email to members, that this was raised with the ONDCP at the same fraud meeting, at which the agency announced the pending checks.
And their answer was 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 says in the correspondence that the Bar Council has begun research into the issue of attorney-client privilege.
Johnson emphasizes 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.

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