Lawyer jailed 4 1/2 years for criminal breach of trust

A lawyer who misappropriated a total of $1.2 million of clients' money was jailed for 4 1/2 years on Thursday. Mustaffa Abu Bakar, 42, admitted to four charges of criminal breach of trust of $879,534.

A district court heard that Mustaffa, now a bankrupt, had acted for clients in conveyancing matters in 2010 when he misappropriated between $16,800 and $440,214 from three clients. He used the money to pay his personal debts and that of his law firm. To date, he has made restitution of $15,000 to one of the victims.

While acting for a client in a divorce matter in 2009, Mustaffa advised her to pass all her savings to him for safekeeping. Between December 2009 and September 2010, the victim handed over a total of $385,000 to him. Subsequently when she asked for her money back, he said he was unable to return it to her.

Mustaffa's lawyer Suresh Damodara said in mitigation that the married father of two was operating more of a free legal clinic rather than a business. His generosity, caring and giving nature led to massive losses for the legal practice, with clients owing him large amounts in legal fees.

Counsel said the 2002 Young Lawyer of the Year had been active in community work including being chairman of the Malay Activity Executive Committee Coordinating Council from 2004 to 2010, a member of management committee of Henderson Community Club and Tanglin Cairnhill citizens' consultative committee.

Called to the Bar in 1998, he voluntarily gave up his practising certificate in 2010 and dissolved his firm, Mustaffa & Company, in January 2011.

Five other charges were taken into consideration during his sentencing.