A lawyer probed for professional misconduct will have to face a Court of Three Judges after a tribunal found he had abused his position as a company director and not acted in the best interests of his client.
Mr Pascal Netto had taken out about US$158,000 (S$201,000) in loans without the knowledge of the firm's owner and subsequently repaid them, among other things.
The three-judge court is the apex body to deal with lawyer misconduct and can suspend, fine, censure or strike off the rolls a lawyer if he is guilty, or acquit him if he is not guilty.
The disciplinary tribunal, appointed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and comprising retired High Court judge Lai Siu Chiu and lawyer Tan Gee Tuan, rejected Mr Netto's claim that he was entitled to make the loans to himself as a company director.
"There were no board resolutions authorising the 14 loans and had he not repaid the loans before they came to the complainant's knowledge, he could have been liable to prosecution for criminal breach of trust... as a director," said the tribunal in its report released yesterday.
Mr Netto, 68, had been approached in 2010 by Ukrainian businessman Volodymyr Bandurchenko, who sought a shelf company for his commercial requirements. He bought a company owned by Mr Netto and his wife for US$8,000, and renamed it Welldrill Pte Ltd where the couple would remain as nominee directors and registered shareholders and hold shares on trust for the owner.
Among the conditions, the couple would not be involved in the management of Welldrill and Mr Bandurchenko brought in a third director, one Ms Olga Volnova, to help in managing the businesses. The couple signed a declaration of trust in favour of Mr Bandurchenko. The tribunal found that Mr Netto had drafted this document as a lawyer.
The Law Society, represented by lawyer Shashi Nathan, prosecuted six charges against Mr Netto. Mr Netto's lawyers, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah and Mr Prabhakaran Nair, countered that all his alleged misdeeds were done as a company director and corporate secretary, and not as a lawyer.
They argued that Mr Bandurchenko had filed a court suit for the alleged misdeeds which was settled by a consent judgment in the High Court in 2012 and urged that the charges be dismissed.
The tribunal was not convinced and found that the six charges were supported by the evidence.
It ruled that Mr Netto's act "of taking monies from Welldrill's bank accounts without the knowledge or consent of (Bandurchenko) reflects poorly on his integrity as a person and a (lawyer)".
The tribunal found that Mr Netto did not at any time inform Mr Bandurchenko that he was acting as a private individual in their dealings on Welldrill, and not as a lawyer. It made clear that the Legal Profession Act would still apply if he was "acting dishonourably" in his personal capacity, as he claimed, and not as a lawyer.
This article was first published on Oct 29, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.