Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Law Society’s handling of case criticised

HE SKIPPED town with a purported $6 million in clients’ money, yet the Law Society used relatively minor charges of misconduct as a basis to get lawyer Zulkifli Mohd Amin disbarred.

The move puzzled the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body in the legal profession, which has powers to suspend or strike wayward lawyers off the rolls.

Justice V.K. Rajah said he was perplexed at why the Law Society had laid some minor charges against Zulkifli.

‘We all know that this is a lawyer who absconded with the second largest amount of money in Singapore’s legal history,’ he said.

But the relatively minor charges Zulkifli faced, added Justice Rajah, did not show the gravity of what he had done.

Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong remarked that the court should not be hearing disciplinary proceedings in stages.

He said that if the court felt the facts of the current case did not warrant Zulkifli being struck off, that means the Law Society would have to come back again with another set of charges.

Chief Justice Chan said there was ’something very wrong’ with the way the Law Society was going about handling the case, describing it as ‘worrying’.

The court adjourned the case to Friday for the Law Society to provide information on what else Zulkifli is said to have done, how much he had absconded with and details of any other pending disciplinary proceedings against him.

When contacted, a Law Society spokesman said the society was unable to comment as the matter is still pending.

Zulkifli, who had practised law since 2000, made headlines when he fled in November 2007, reportedly with $6 million in clients’ funds meant for property deals.

Yesterday, Mr Anthony Lee, counsel for the Law Society, applied to the Court of Three Judges to strike Zulkifli off the rolls over a specific conveyancing transaction.

In the case, he did not swipe any money, but his failure to follow up and keep his clients informed of the progress of the transaction caused them to lose out on a property deal in 2007.

The clients, a married couple, had engaged Zulkifli to act for them in a property purchase. They had issued cheques for the necessary payments and got a bank loan, but Zulkifli neither made the payments to the developer, nor did he draw down from the loan to meet the payments.

He also failed to tell his clients about the numerous notices and reminders for payment.

As a result of not getting the payments, the developer annulled the sale. Last year, a two-man disciplinary tribunal found Zulkifli guilty of misconduct.

He remains at large.

Source: Straits Times, 24 Feb 2010

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