what is a criminal lawyer

When you hear the description: “Oh, he’s a criminal lawyer” –

Does this mean: (a) a lawyer who practices criminal law, or (b) a lawyer who himself is a criminal over and above being a lawyer?

I am not so sure myself anymore. I suppose one could easily be both.

It really is a fine line in this modern money-mad world we live in, and especially here in the provincial port town of Cape Town it would seem these days.

When lawyers get assassinated in broad daylight, while simply going about their daily lives, you really have to ask why – and let’s be honest here, in the year of our Lord 13 January 2020 – it’s really not because they are the nicest of blokes whom you would invite round to your Friday night Shabbat dinner table to meet your yenta mother to show off to her about your new clever mate, and they’re also not the sort of blokes who do solid high-quality legitimate legal work. Let’s just call it what it is FFS. We’re all too old, too tired and too bored in the era of Eskom excuses and rampant Govt corruption and crime to be standing on ceremony. Right?

Now, back in the 1980’s, and mainly in Miami Florida (which was the numero uno USA arrival point for drugs – mainly cocaine – originating from Latin America) many lawyers in big-time Miami law-firms used to act for Colombian cocaine traffickers. These law-firm’s legitimate legal services usually extended to representation of such clients in criminal indictments relating to conspiracy to supply drugs into the USA and the illegal distribution of these drugs.

But then there was a far more lucrative straight-forward business for these law-firms, and this entailed the laundering of drug sales’ proceeds for a fee, through some very inventive means. The simplest method of course was to bank the cash (because drug deals were usually done in cash money back then) into the law-firm’s escrow account (“trust account” is the SA term) in amounts which were less than USD 10,000 on account of a currency reporting form only having to be completed for any amount deposited in excess of USD 10,000.

Now, let’s just say good old El Patron (boss man in Spanish) Pablo Escobar had USD 15M sitting in a store-room on Miami’s South Beach, just round the corner say from the Colony Hotel, where they filmed the famous bathtub chainsaw scene in the feature film Scarface in the early 1980’s, and El Patron Pablo Escobar wanted to get this dirty cash money into the system. 

So, he would engage say five law-firms whom he had deals with and deposit USD 9,999 per day per law firm, which would mean he could launder all the cash money in a period of ten months. At a fee of 10% that would mean each law firm made USD 300,000 for doing nothing really. Some greedy law-firms even deposited way larger amounts of cash, and then cited attorney-client privilege in refusing to disclose the identity of the client in the currency reporting form.   

Eventually most of these lawyers got nailed, and got stuck on the stand when cross-examined by a competent District Attorney, who simply asked:

“Tell me, Mr Jones Esq., when you deposited the drug money into escrow, were you acting as a lawyer, or were you acting as a criminal?”

And, I suppose, one could also ask the very same question to the recently departed Cape Town criminal lawyers, who all met with their maker way sooner than they thought they would.

Contributed by:
Barry Varkel, an attorney of the High Court of South Africa and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Author of Nigiri Law and Goy Vey


  1. These lawyers merely facilitated the velocity of money through the system, so that Govt Revenue Services could at least skim off transaction costs (VAT, GST, other fees etc). A bit like phone companies not being unduly worried about your stolen phone, as the new “client” becomes a new subscriber where he would otherwise have been off the system. Perverse incentives in a way…

  2. Nobody’s aking me but anyway lawyer’s car salesmen estate agents government officials etc etc all have that one thing they share and thats stretching the limits and a few that actually make there own guide lines as they go along exept for u my friend well only if i asked 🤣🤣🤣🤣 i have 9999usd x1000000000 i won it on the horse’s 😲or my uncle in Nigeria left it to me in his will i just need to give his lawyer my bank details and pin number 🤣🤣🤣


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

sixteen − 11 =