Nick Johnson KC secures acquittal of chartered accountant in one of the largest money laundering trials in British legal history

December 20, 2022

A jury have returned a not guilty verdict in relation to an Australian chartered accountant alleged to have been at the heart of financial arrangements for the laundering of over £266m in cash, after an 8-month trial in Leeds.

Nick Johnson KC was instructed by Ben Jones at Opus Law to represent the chartered accountant, Heidi Buckler, 45. She was employed in house at Bradford based gold dealers and jewellers Fowler Oldfield Ltd and also worked alongside London based Stunt & Co, run by James Stunt, who was formerly married to Petra Ecclestone.

The defendants were all accused of operating an international trade based money laundering scheme, where criminal cash passed through the banking system, then was used to purchase gold exported to Dubai, between January 2014 and September 2016. The NatWest bank had already been successfully prosecuted for regulatory failings by the Financial Conduct Authority and couriers who delivered cash to Fowler Oldfield had been found guilty in related proceedings. It was alleged that Mrs Buckler was a professional enabler for the criminal transactions and that she generated false company invoices.

Nick obtained a Section 8 order for disclosure of significant material which was utilised in her defence. He successfully objected to the admissibility of expert accountancy evidence in the case which suggested that she should have exercised more professional scepticism. He also obtained a favourable ruling in relation to the framing of the legal directions, which refined the definition of criminal property and secondary parties. The case contained interesting cross-jurisdictional issues, including comparative money laundering regulations in Australia. After deliberating for more than 6 days, the jury acquitted 4 defendants and were unable to reach verdicts on 4 others.

Nick, who is Head of Crime in Leeds, is ranked at Silk Band 1 for Financial Crime by Chambers & Partners 2023, one of only three silks outside London with such a ranking. Together with Richard Littler KC who acted in the case for a Fowler Oldfield director, he will be delivering talks through Exchange Chambers regarding some of the legal and procedural issues arising in the case, early in the new year.