Pride of the Gambia Legal Eagle Flying in London
Monday, December 10, 2007
A Gambian born lawyer is making a major mark on the British legal scene and in Britain’s fight against corruption from overseas.
Ousman F. M’Bai, 39, a Gambian born British citizen who moved to the UK from the Gambia in 1991 to study law, was called to the English Bar in 1996 and has now joined the ranks of prominent black lawyers in Britain.
He now is playing a key role as Crown Counsel heading the prosecution in high profile cases for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and is widely accepted as one of Britain’s inner circle of leading black lawyers.
With qualifications in banking and finance he has become a major force in one of the most difficult areas of criminal law in Britain, the fight against fraud, money laundering and corruption, some of it internationally based and some domestic.
Vast sums of money from Eastern Europe and Africa end up in London and Ousman is increasingly being called in to prosecute in such cases, as a result of his financial and legal expertise in the field.
This role has put him at the forefront of the drive by the British authorities to stamp out fraud from overseas, and particularly fight the increasingly sophisticated practice of money laundering from abroad.
He has joined a hard core of ethically conscious lawyers who have now become prominent in the legal system, many of whom, like him, come from Africa.
They include Fedelis Odita QC and Oba Nsube QC, who are both from Nigeria, and Britain’s new Attorney General Baroness Scotland QC, who was born in Dominica to Caribbean parents.
One of the recent cases Ousman was involved in was that of the former Governor of a Nigerian State whose assets of £25 million were frozen by a London Court.
Ousman, who is living proof of the fact that talented and ambitious foreign-born lawyers can make their mark in Britain, comes from a long legal dynasty in the Gambia.
His father Fafa E M’Bai was Attorney General in two governments in the Gambia, still practises privately there and has a long reputation as a staunch opponent of corruption. Three of Ousman’s brothers are also lawyers, two of them practicing in the Gambia and the other, like him, in Britain.
Based in London, with its increasing crime rate, Ousman is fittingly following in the foot steps of his illustrious father as an astute and fearless advocate. Always immaculately dressed, articulate and calm Ousman, shines brightly as a main player who also works at a higher level. He oozes class in his legal performances. His talents are called on increasingly by the CPS to prosecute in cases covering not just corruption and fraud but over a wide area of criminal matters ranging from street crime to serious firearms offences.
But it is the fight against fraud and corruption from overseas that is the prime area of his practice, and the one in which he specialises and sees as the major area of his work.
It’s an area that has, over the years, seen the introduction of increasing levels of sophistication.
Ousman says ‘that in the early days money laundering techniques were relatively crude. The money-launderers used to arrive in Britain with suit cases full of cash which they would deposit in British banks.’
However, those relatively simple methods of moving cash between countries for illegal purposes were largely stamped out by the introduction of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which imposed new obligations on banks to block money laundering.
Since then, though, the fraudsters have become far more sophisticated.
Ousman says: "The days of the suitcases full of notes are really a thing of the past. Now the money launderers hide behind offshore companies and their activities have become a major league and increasingly complex crime. White collar crime is rife in London which is the centre of the world financial market and detection and prosecution for it is far more difficult.
"New methods of detection on the part of the police and the authorities have had to be developed and of course, with the increasing complexities, the law has also had to evolve to handle the changing situation. It is a testing and challenging time for all of us who are involved in the fight.
"Like the criminals we have all had to become increasingly more sophisticated in our practices. However, I believe it is a fight at times we are winning and it is one in which I am proud to be playing a part.
"Our objective as far as international fraud is concerned is to confiscate the proceeds – to take back from the criminals what they have dishonestly attempted to deprive society of and also of course to punish them for their activities.
Ousman has risen through the ranks rapidly since joining the CPS in May 2002. He is a Senior Crown counsel in the Central London Prosecution Unit and is also South Sector Champion for proceeds of crime cases. This puts him at the heart of all the major money laundering and fraud cases in London.
Not all his fraud cases have involved overseas fraudsters though. There is plenty of home grown fraud to be found in Britain. And it doesn’t come much higher profile than one of his prosecutions. That was the case of Paul Olden, who was a resource Manager with the Speaker of the House of Common’s Art Fund in the Palace of Westminster. The offence marked the single biggest incident of fraud ever at the House of Commons.
He defrauded the fund the sum of £130,000 over three years by forging the signatures of the secretaries to the speaker. Ousman prepared the prosecution case and ultimately, after he pleaded guilty, Olden was jailed for two years.
The case won Ousman the praise of the trial judge for his case preparation and he was also taken on a personal tour of the palace of Westminster to mark his success.
Another recent case in which Ousman master-minded the prosecution involved fraudster, Stewart McLeod, who pleaded guilty to a 30 count indictment for money laundering and proceeds of crime offences. He had laundered illicit gains of £4 million to offshore accounts across the world.
As part of the preparation for the case Ousman took the vital step of ensuring before the case reached court that McLeod would not be able to siphon away the proceeds of his fraud out of the reach of the British authorities, by obtaining court orders freezing his assets.
And, in the near future, he has several high profile cases in which he is prosecuting due in court.
These include the case of a medical doctor who was pushed under a train but miraculously survived and a money laundering case in which police made cash seizure in excess of £1 million.
"Unhappily crime is internationally a growth industry," says Ousman. "We all wish it wasn’t. We will never stamp it out completely but I like to think I am playing a major part in helping reduce it, in bringing those responsible to justice and ensuring that they don’t profit from their activities.’’
Author: by Roger Pearson & Nick Brown in London