A veteran lawyer of 35 years, Mr Pascal Netto, has been struck off the rolls for professional misconduct. The 68-year-old had been a nominee director in a client's firm but issued company shares to himself and borrowed some US$158,000 (S$215,000) from the firm without authorisation.
In disbarring Mr Netto on Tuesday, the Court of Three Judges noted his "demonstrable lack of integrity" and said there was a need to protect the public and safeguard the standard of the legal profession.
The court did not place much weight on the fact that Mr Netto, the sole proprietor of Tang & Tan, had been a lawyer for more than three decades "without a blot on his record".
"Age and experience should call for greater circumspection, rather than less," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who delivered the decision.
In 2010, a Ukrainian businessman who wanted to buy a dormant company was introduced to Mr Netto. Mr Volodymyr Bandurchenko bought a company owned by Mr Netto and his wife Joyce, and renamed it Welldrill.
The couple agreed to hold shares in Welldrill as trustees for the Ukrainian and to be only nominee directors not involved in managing the company. A third director, Ms Olga Volnova, was appointed by Mr Bandurchenko to help him run the business.
In 2011, Mr Bandurchenko decided to transfer the shares held in trust by the couple to his firm in Seychelles. But the lawyer refused to do so. The businessman later discovered that Mr Netto had made 14 withdrawals totalling US$158,654.60 - which he later repaid - between June 2010 and February 2011 from one of Welldrill's bank accounts.
He also learnt that Mr Netto had issued 1,500 shares to himself, removed Ms Volnova as a director and later closed Welldrill's three bank accounts.
Mr Bandurchenko filed a civil suit against Mr Netto in 2012 to get back the shares. The suit was settled by consent judgment.
In 2013, the Ukrainian complained to the Law Society about Mr Netto's conduct. The society, represented by Mr Shashi Nathan, brought six misconduct charges against Mr Netto.
A disciplinary tribunal found him guilty on all six charges last October and referred the case to the Court of Three Judges, which can fine, suspend or strike a lawyer off the rolls.
On Tuesday, Mr Netto's lawyer, Mr Prabhakaran Nair, argued that a suspension was appropriate as this was an "isolated aberration" in his otherwise-unblemished career.
Mr Nathan said it was sad that Mr Netto was facing the ignominy of being disbarred at the tail end of his career but noted that similar cases in the past supported a striking off.
This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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