Lawyer disbarred for duping client into handing over $25,000

A lawyer of 25 years' standing, who deceived her client into handing over $25,000 and issued bogus receipts for the sum, was struck off the rolls yesterday.

In disbarring Madam Soraya Hafsa Ibrahim, the sole proprietor of her law firm, the Court of Three Judges noted that when misconduct involves dishonesty, the penalty will almost invariably be a striking off, as there was a need to protect the public.

Madam Soraya had acted for a woman in divorce proceedings, and the matters included a Housing Board flat that the woman and her former husband were in the midst of buying.

She told her client in June 2015 to deposit $15,000 with her, so that the woman can show the court she had the financial means to take over the flat and refund her ex-husband the CPF funds he had used to pay for it.

In March 2016, the client paid her another $10,000 for the same purpose, after Madam Soraya asked for an additional deposit.

Each time, a receipt was issued stating the money was paid into the client account. But the firm did not maintain a client account and the money was paid into its office account, which Madam Soraya used to pay salaries and for other expenses.

Under the legal profession rules, lawyers have to deposit money they are holding for clients into a client account that is separate from the office account.

The deceit came to light in June 2017 when the woman went to collect the keys for the flat. She found the refund to her ex-husband was made solely from her CPF funds, not from the $25,000 she had paid to her lawyer.

The client repeatedly asked Madam Soraya to repay the sum, and the lawyer returned it after six weeks.

The client then made a complaint to the Law Society, which brought two charges against her for failing to pay the sums into the client account and two charges for deceiving the client into paying the money.

A disciplinary tribunal found Madam Soraya guilty of all four charges and decided the case was serious enough to be referred to the court, which has the power to suspend and disbar lawyers.

In its findings in May last year, the tribunal rejected her argument that it was a mistake. It also noted, among other things, that there were other ways for the client to show she had the money to take over the flat, like producing her CPF statement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2020, with the headline 'Lawyer disbarred for duping client into handing over $25,000'. Print Edition | Subscribe