A veteran lawyer was fined $50,000 yesterday for breaching rules 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, contravened professional rules by depositing $100,000 paid by an interested buyer into his firm's clients' account rather than its conveyancing one. Conveyancing accounts are subject to strict controls on 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, fell through and the sum was not returned to the buyer, who complained to the Law Society and, separately, filed claims against the sellers to recover the money.
Mr Singh contested the charges brought by the Law Society, arguing 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.
Yesterday, 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 brought the case to the court, arguing his conduct was serious enough for sanctions.
The society's lawyer Adam Maniam said Mr Singh had shown no remorse. He also noted Mr Singh had 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 the $100,000 was conveyancing money and said sanctions were warranted as Mr Singh caused potential loss to the buyer.