Saturday, February 27, 2010

Missing lawyer squirrelled away more than $10m

RUNAWAY lawyer Zulkifli Mohd Amin had moved more than $10 million out of his firm’s client’s account over a 10-month period in 2007, a sum larger than the $6 million previously thought.

These details emerged in a 56-page report by a disciplinary tribunal comprising retired Judge of Appeal L.P. Thean and lawyer Tan Chuan Thye.

The tribunal, appointed in August last year by the Chief Justice to formally investigate the case, found Zulkifli guilty of a total of 211 charges of misconduct.

Zulkifli was one of three partners of the now-defunct firm of Sadique Marican and ZM Amin.

He is not around to face the music, but his partners, Mr Mohd Sadique

Ibrahim Marican and Mr Anand Kumar Toofani Beldar, will have to face a Court of Three Judges for breaching accounting rules and failing to safeguard clients’ money.

Out of the 211 charges against Zulkifli, 208 are related to unauthorised withdrawals of funds from the account used to hold clients’ money.

The remaining charges were for failing to ensure that the client’s account was not overdrawn and failing to keep the books in order.

The accounts of the firm were managed by Zulkifli.

The other partners have each been found guilty of three charges of failing to keep the books in order and failing to supervise transactions involving clients’ money.

In November 2007, Mr Sadique and Mr Anand told the Law Society that Zulkifli was missing and they suspected him of misappropriating money from the firm.

The firm’s accounts were inspected.

Among other things, it was found that the firm had been issuing cash cheques after May 15, 2007 even though it was no longer allowed to do so under the rules.

Fund transfers were made and cash cheques were issued without supporting documents.

Although Mr Sadique’s signature appears on some forms and cheques, a handwriting expert has concluded that they were forged.

The 211 charges form the most serious of three separate disciplinary proceedings against Zulkifli. The tribunal has found that the case is serious enough to be referred to the Court of Three Judges, which has the power to suspend or strike lawyers off the rolls.

On Tuesday, another of the three cases, involving Zulkifli’s inaction in a conveyancing transaction that caused his clients to lose out on a property deal, was brought before the Court of Three Judges by the Law Society seeking to disbar Zulkifli.

This drew criticism from the judges, who questioned why the society brought up less serious charges when it was well-known that Zulkifli had done worse. The court asked for more details about his other disciplinary proceedings.

Yesterday, it emerged that Zulkifli was found guilty earlier this month of the 211 charges. Both cases will be dealt with together by the court.

The third case is pending.

According to sources, the less serious complaint was made in November 2007 and the disciplinary tribunal, in its report in October last year, said the matter should be brought to the Court of Three Judges.

By law, the society had a one-month deadline to make the application.

It is understood that the society had considered deferring the less serious case, but as it was unsure how long it would take to investigate the 211 charges, it decided to go ahead with the less serious case.

Source: Straits Times, 27 Feb 2010

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