Lawyer struck off rolls for dereliction of duty

A lawyer had agreed to be the figurehead director of a law firm after he was approached by two fellow practitioners who were not supposed to handle clients' money.

But Mr Krishna Morthy S.V., 61, shirked his management duties and left the running of the firm to the office manager, who allegedly embezzled $108,000.

Yesterday, Mr Morthy, a lawyer for 22 years, was struck off the rolls by a Court of Three Judges.

"This is a tragic and deplorable case where, because of (Mr Morthy's) gross dereliction of duties, a client of his firm has suffered great loss," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

On the surface, Mr Morthy was the sole director of Frontier Law Corporation and employed the other two lawyers as "legal assistants".

But Frontier was effectively controlled by Mr Mohd Sadique Ibrahim Marican and Mr Anand Kumar Toofani Beldar, who had promised Mr Morthy $7,500 a month for his role. Before Frontier was set up, Mr Sadique and Mr Anand were partners at the same firm as runaway lawyer Zulkifli Mohd Amin, who skipped town in November 2007 after allegedly embezzling $11 million and is still at large.

While investigations were ongoing, the pair each gave an undertaking to the Law Society that they would not handle clients' money.

To circumvent the undertaking, in May 2008, they asked Mr Morthy to be a figurehead director of Frontier. Mr Sadique's elder brother Ebrahim Marican Batcha Sahib, who is not a lawyer, worked at the firm as an office manager.

All three lawyers, including Mr Morthy, eventually left Frontier. Mr Morthy, who never received the promised pay, took on work from another firm.

This allowed Ebrahim to have free rein over the firm and, in 2012, he allegedly siphoned $108,000 which he had told a client to deposit into the firm's account.

Yesterday, the Law Society's counsel, Mr Subramanian Pillai, argued that a striking-off was warranted.

The court agreed, noting Mr Morthy's "egregious breach" in helping Mr Sadique and Mr Anand "beat the system of safeguards that had been put in place to preserve public confidence in the profession and to avoid this very situation".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Lawyer struck off rolls for dereliction of duty'. Print Edition | Subscribe