What do you do when the FBI comes knocking? GSC Solicitors’ Harvey Posener saw the funny side…
I’ve been responsible for compliance at GSC Solicitors LLP for many years. It was in this capacity, around twenty years ago, that I got a phone call from the wonderful Annie on reception.
“There’s a policeman here,” she said. “He wants to talk to somebody.”
“Oh really?” I replied. Now wasn’t the best time. “Could you tell him I’m busy right now but if he’d like to make an appointment I’d be happy to see him.”
A moment later and the phone was ringing again. Annie sounded a little more agitated this time. “I think you’d better come down,” she said. “He’s from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). There’s an American officer with him from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).”
A dramatic pause.
“And there’s an FBI agent with them. I think you might want to come down.”
I thought I might not want that.
A little hesitantly I went downstairs and showed the gentlemen into a conference room. We talked for about an hour and it very quickly became clear that neither the firm nor the client had done anything remotely wrong. It did, however, seem that someone our client was in the process of putting a deal together with had attracted the attention of some heavyweight law enforcement agencies.
The agents asked I could assist their enquiries. “I’d love to,” I said, “but you know that, as a solicitor, I’m subject to a duty of confidentiality. You fully accept that our clients are nothing to do with the fraud so I’m not in a position to help you.”
The agents tried again. “What happens,” they asked, “if we stay here and get a notice served under Section 2 of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act)?”
That notice would be sufficient to override the duty of confidentiality, so I said that would be fine. They asked for contact details. I gave them and went back to my room to wait for notice.
Around an hour later, Senior Partner Saleem Sheikh was buzzing me. Even the buzzer sounded urgent. “Can you come to my room?” he asked in a rather panicked voice.
Saleem was ashen and shaken. In has hand he clutched a ream of papers on which the SFO, ATF and FBI’s names were clearly visible. He waved them at me. “What on earth is going on?” he spluttered, clearly imagining the sensational headlines.
I’d given the FBI Saleem’s name and fax number.
It took me a while to give him the full explanation. I was too busy rolling on the floor laughing.