02 Aug 2021
A Vancouver lawyer has been suspended after letting a client use her firm’s trust accounts to move more than $14 million from other countries without providing any legal services or asking where the money came from.
In a disciplinary decision on the professional misconduct of Florence Esther Louie Yen, a hearing panel of the Law Society of B.C. raises the possibility she may have been unintentionally helping someone clean dirty money.
“This panel cannot definitively conclude that money laundering occurred, but it is not our role to make that determination,” the July 21 decision reads.
“Nevertheless, if money laundering did in fact occur, it could not have happened without the participation and assistance of the respondent [Louie Yen], however inadvertent such assistance may have been.”
Louie Yen has been suspended from practice for three months and ordered to pay costs of $35,209.83.
The decision says Louie Yen has promised not to repeat this behaviour, yet she still represents this particular client, which left the panel feeling “troubled.”
It goes on to say that Louie Yen expressed concern about how difficult it would be for her Cantonese-speaking clients to find someone to represent her if she were suspended. The panel found it was more important to protect the public and deter others from following her example.
“The respondent ignored a multitude of obvious red flags. She utterly failed in fulfilling her duty as gatekeeper of her firm’s trust accounts,” the decision reads.
Louie Yen has not responded to requests for comment.
Money wired from Panama and Singapore
According to the disciplinary decision, the transactions all involved a client who is based in Hong Kong and initially retained Louie Yen to incorporate a numbered company to buy a restaurant.
The first suspicious transaction came in May 2015, when the client said he wanted to wire money to her firm’s trust account because his uncle’s foundation was interested in investing in real estate, the decision says.
A total of $604,770.16 was wired to the account, but the client soon revealed that his uncle’s offer on the property was not accepted and the money would need to be returned. Louie Yen followed his instructions and remitted the funds, according to the decision.
This pattern continued over the next 22 months, with deposits coming from places including Panama, Singapore and a Singapore bank via Luxembourg, but the law society says Louie Yen did not ask about the source of the money or speak to her client’s uncle.
“At the time of the first deposit, she did not know the uncle’s name, the name of his foundation, whether the funds would be coming from the uncle personally or his foundation, the uncle’s address, employer or occupation, his level of wealth or the origins of the funds,” the decision says.
By Bethany Lindsay, CBC News, 31 July 2021
Read more at CBC News
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