2 lawyers disbarred for refusing to return client's $1.8m

2 lawyers disbarred for refusing to return client's $1.8m

TWO lawyers who refused to return $1.8 million to a client were struck off the rolls yesterday.

The client had transferred the money to their wives for what she thought was safekeeping.

Mr Manjit Singh, a lawyer of 37 years, and Mr Sree Govind Menon, a lawyer of 16, were partners in the firm, Manjit Govind & Partners.

In disbarring them, the Court of Three Judges, with power to censure, suspend or strike lawyers off the rolls for professional misconduct, noted that the pair had acted dishonestly.

In 2009, Mr Singh was hired by Ms Bernadette Rankine, then an art gallery owner, to handle the sale of her house in Joan Road, off Thomson Road, which was sold for $12 million.

She had decided to sell the property and live off the proceeds after ending her 13-year relationship with Malaysian businessman Amin Shah.

But her former boyfriend lodged a caveat against the property to block the sale. In February 2010, the caveat was lifted and the net sales proceeds of $6.9 million held by the law firm were ordered to be released to her.

Mr Singh gave her a cheque for $5 million as well as $50,000 for her assistant's wages.

A few days later, he gave her a cheque for $1.8 million, while she in turn issued two cheques, one for $1.6 million to Mr Singh's wife and the other for $200,000 to Mr Menon's wife.

Mr Singh had advised her to place the money with their wives for safekeeping, saying that if her former boyfriend launched more legal actions against her, her money would be frozen and she would not have the means to pay for lawyers.

Nine months later, she asked them to return the money. When they refused, she complained to the Law Society. They have since returned the full sum.

In April last year, a disciplinary tribunal found the pair guilty of misconduct - Mr Singh for advising her to pay the money to the wives and then refusing to return it, and Mr Menon for agreeing with the advice.

The pair contended that the money was a gift from Ms Rankine but the tribunal found this "inherently absurd".

Yesterday, the court agreed, saying it was unlikely that Ms Rankine, who needed money for pending legal matters, would give away one quarter of her key asset to the wives of the two lawyers she had known for less than six months and to whom she had already paid fees.

The court agreed with the society's counsel, Mr P. E. Ashokan, that the pair had embarked on an elaborate scheme to disguise the transaction by using Ms Rankine as a conduit, instead of transferring directly from the firm to their wives.

selinal@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 14, 2015.
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