10 Sep 2020
One of the UK’s most prestigious law firms is being investigated by regulators who have spent at least two years examining it, sending investigators into its central London offices.
The Guardian has established that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is conducting a complex investigation into Mishcon de Reya, involving forensic and anti-money laundering investigators.
The long-running investigation was launched after the SRA received separate reports between 2017 and 2018 that relayed a series of allegations about the elite London firm.
One of the reports is understood to have related to an HM Revenue and Customs investigation into transfers of Premier League football players, while the second detailed allegations about the firm’s work for clients connected to an elaborate €100m (£89m) fraud.
It is not clear whether the investigation is a result of these reports or relates to issues raised by them. Forensic investigations are typically reserved for serious cases and require firms to produce financial records for inspection, often at short notice.
A former SRA investigator said multi-year investigations were unusual but not unheard of, particularly for more complicated cases, adding: “It’s certainly not run-of-the-mill for an investigation to go on for that period of time.”
Mishcon de Reya, which has grown rapidly over the past decade, with revenues of £48m in 2009-10 jumping to £188m in 2019-20, is famous for representing Princess Diana in the 1990s and has continued to represent high-profile clients such as the businesswoman and pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller.
The ongoing investigation into Mishcon de Reya is understood not to have reached any conclusions or made any adverse findings against the firm or any of its partners or solicitors.
If the SRA makes an adverse finding against a firm, its sanctions can range from letters of advice to a referral to the solicitors disciplinary tribunal (SDT), which can strike off solicitors and issue suspensions and fines.
Between 2017 and 2018, the period for which the latest figures are available, the SRA carried out 6,000 investigations, the majority of which resulted in a finding that no rules were breached or seriously breached. More than 130 cases were referred to the SDT.
Mishcon de Reya declined to comment on the investigation. “Due to our duty of confidentiality to our clients, we cannot comment on our communications with our regulator,” the firm said. It added that the SRA had never attended unannounced, nor intervened into the firm.
The SRA’s investigation is understood to have begun after the regulator received a report about a 2017 high court judgment in a case between Newcastle United football club and HMRC. The judgment shed light on a criminal investigation into the club for alleged tax evasion, which it has previously denied.
Mishcon de Reya was not a party in the case and no findings were made against the firm. However, the judgment described HMRC’s allegations against Newcastle, including an allegation that the bulk of a £1.9m fee that the club paid to an agent who was involved in 2011 negotiations to sign Demba Ba was transferred via Mishcon de Reya to companies linked to Ba and unlicensed football agents.
By Harry Davies and Juliette Garside, The Guardian, 9 September 2020
Read more at The Guardian
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