Law firm 'was channel for stolen funds': Steve Boggan reports on how a lawyer was used as a conduit for money laundering

A BRITISH solicitor running a small family firm is being investigated in connection with a dollars 4.85m ( pounds 3.08m) money-laundering operation set up by businessmen with Mafia links in the United States.

Detectives and lawyers are trying to find out how Anthony Brierley Collins came to be used as a conduit for the movement of dollars 750,000 stolen from the Salvation Army and a further dollars 4.1m netted in an elaborate investment fraud in Germany and Switzerland.

According to inquiries by the Independent, Mr Brierley Collins, who operates with his wife, Helen Neilson, from a house in Northampton and an office in St John's Wood, north London, opened bank accounts through which money from each fraud was channelled.

While he was acting for Guido Haak, a Dutch businessman who is being held in the Netherlands in connection with the dollars 8.8m Salvation Army fraud, Mr Brierley Collins transferred dollars 400,000 of the stolen money from his firm's client account in London to a bank in Los Angeles to part-fund the purchase of a dollars 1.2m apartment in Santa Monica.

He also set up a client account that was used to move money gained in another illegal scheme involving the theft of dollars 4.1m from a group of European investors. Some of the cash subsequently vanished to Germany, dollars 1m was sent to the United States and spent on a beach house in Malibu and the rest vanished.

Devon and Cornwall Police and the Serious Fraud Office are examining the involvement of Mr Brierley Collins's firm in the investment fraud, while lawyers acting for the Salvation Army and the Solicitors' Indemnity Fund have been investigating his role in the movement of the charity's cash.

After each fraud, at least some of the money found its way to Harold Glantz, a New York businessman with Mafia links.

Since 1967, Glantz, who is in custody in the US accused of involvement in the Salvation Army fraud, has been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the New York Police Department, the South and East US Attorney's offices, the South and East Organised Crime task forces and the State Investigation Commission.

Among the figures with whom US investigators linked Glantz was Carlo Gambino, the head of one of the leading New York Mafia families, who died in 1976.

Mr Brierley Collins's involvement in the European investment transfers is under investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police, which became interested after helping the FBI smash a dollars 24m fraud in the US. He has also been questioned by Dutch police prosecuting Haak. But his solicitor, Steven Barker, said his role in the Salvation Army case was as a witness, not a suspect.

'He has been duped like everyone else in this case,' Mr Barker said.

It is unclear when Mr Brierley Collins met Haak or how his small firm was chosen, but he is thought to have been acting for the Dutchman by the middle of 1992. His wife stopped working to have a baby in 1991.

In the summer of 1992, Haak, Glantz and several associates took dollars 4.35m of the Salvation Army's money from Gamil Naguib and Stuart Ford, two investment 'advisers' who have been accused by the charity in High Court proceedings of having stolen the funds in the first place.

According to documents lodged by the Salvation Army Trustee Company at the Superior Court in Los Angeles, Mr Brierley Collins received dollars 750,000 from Continental Capital Markets Inc, a company owned by Harold Glantz, on 1 December 1992.

The money was reaching the end of an elaborate laundering process designed to confuse investigators. Channelling it through Mr Brierley Collins's firm was to have been the last step before moving it abroad. Mr Brierley Collins opened a client account for the money at his firm's bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland at Aldwych, central London, in the name of Haak or his company, Delta Management BV.

On 16 December and 18 December 1992, Mr Brierley Collins transferred two sums of dollars 200,000 each to the First Los Angeles Bank in Santa Monica, crediting the account of San Vicente Escrow, agents for the purchase of real estate.

The money was used to buy an apartment on 11th Street, Santa Monica, for Harold Glantz's daughter, Lisa. It is understood that the remaining dollars 350,000 went to Glantz and Haak, or interests connected with them, and to cover Mr Brierley Collins's fees.

Laundering of money in the European fraud also involved the solicitor opening a client account through which money was channelled. The figure this time is believed to have been dollars 4.1m, but much of it again found its way to Harold Glantz. He is thought to have put dollars 1m from the European fraud towards a dollars 5m Malibu beach house on the exclusive Pacific Coast Highway.

The European investors who lost their money have lodged a claim against Mr Brierley Collins with the Solicitors' Indemnity Fund. The fund is investigating but said its liability would be limited to pounds 1m per claim, even if the losers lost as a group, as in this case, and even if their complaint was upheld.

Mr Brierley Collins, who drives a J-registered Jaguar XJS and lives in a large house overlooking Northampton's Abington Park, said he had been advised to make no comment.

When asked how a small family firm had been used to move almost dollars 5m of the proceeds from two of the largest frauds of recent times, and how it was that each time the money found its way to the same man with Mafia connections, Mr Brierley replied: 'That's a fair question.'

But he refused to elaborate.

(Photograph omitted)

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