Lawyer fined $50,000 for breaching rules that safeguard money for property deals

SINGAPORE - A veteran lawyer was fined $50,000 on Wednesday (Oct 23) for breaching rules that were put in place to safeguard monies held by law firms on behalf of the parties of property transactions.

Mr Dhanwant Singh, who acted for the sellers of a $5.8 million Serangoon Road property, had deposited $100,000 paid by an interested buyer into his firm's clients' account rather than its conveyancing account.

This was a contravention of professional rules stipulating that conveyancing money should be deposited into conveyancing accounts, which are subject to strict controls on authorisation for withdrawals.

Mr Singh then released the $100,000 to the sellers, a family of three who were facing bankruptcy proceedings.

The property deal, which took place in 2017, ultimately fell through and the sum was not returned to the buyer.

The buyer complained to the Law Society against Mr Singh and separately, filed claims against the sellers to recover the money.

Mr Singh contested the charges brought by the Law Society for contravening the rules.

He argued that the $100,000 did not fall within the legal definition of "conveyancing money" as it was paid by the buyer to extend the option to purchase.

This was rejected by a disciplinary tribunal in January , which said it was clear the money was paid towards the purchase price and hence, defined as conveyancing money.

 
 
 

On Wednesday, Mr Singh's lawyer, Mr S. Magintharan, repeated the argument before the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body for errant lawyers.

The Law Society had brought the case to the court, arguing that Mr Singh's conduct was serious enough to warrant imposing sanctions.

The society's lawyer, Mr Adam Maniam, said Mr Singh has shown no remorse by continuing to argue that his actions were justified.

Mr Maniam also noted that Mr Singh has antecedents and several ongoing complaints.

Mr Singh, who started practising in 1986, was disbarred in 1995 for helping three clients obtain false medical certificates to excuse them from attending court. He was reinstated in 2013.

The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Steven Chong, agreed that the $100,000 was conveyancing money and said sanctions were warranted as Mr Singh caused potential loss to the buyer.