A Spanish lawyer who sent “misleading” emails to divert £183,000 intended for his client to his personal bank account, has been struck off the register of European lawyers.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Miguel Jose Roure Lopez had “fought every point”, tried to block the disciplinary process and challenged the authenticity of documents in a way which was “unrealistic and fantastical”.
Mr Lopez, who had been a registered European lawyer (REL) in the London office of US firm Goldberg Segalla Global, was ordered to pay costs of £57,500 after the tribunal said he had acted for his personal financial benefit.
The SDT said Mr Lopez, an “experienced lawyer who was operating at partner level”, had caused “substantial and serious” harm to the reputation of his firm and the profession, although he had returned the £183,000.
Looking at the various allegations against him, it said: “Monies had been misappropriated, funds had been dispersed and the investment contemplated [a client] had not happened. This had resulted in ongoing litigation in Spain.”
Mr Lopez was born in 1973, and became a REL in April 2014.
He worked at Goldberg Segalla from March to November 2015. The SDT said it was understood that Mr Lopez then operated from his own, unregulated business, Reactive Legal Services LLP.
While at Goldberg Segalla, Mr Lopez was found to have sent “misleading emails” to a company that owed money to a client, causing an “inappropriate transfer of funds” into his personal bank account instead of the law firm’s client account.
The client complained to the firm about this, after which a partner told Mr Lopez not to proceed with the transaction.
“We cannot have you doing transactions outside of this firm’s accounts,” the partner said.
“You cannot do what is simply customary under Spanish law or what seems expedient. We are regulated by the SRA not Spain. I will not put this firm at risk.”
The SDT found that Mr Lopez then dishonestly “misled his firm” about what had happened.
Two days after the firm became aware of his actions, it suspended Mr Lopez, and he offered his resignation.
The tribunal said it was clear that Mr Lopez had been purporting to act in his capacity as a partner of Goldberg Segalla and provided reassurances on the back of that status. This conduct was also dishonest.
Mr Lopez denied the allegations, as he did a second set, which involved nearly £75,000 of a client’s money ending up in his personal bank account.
He claimed all the documents involved were forgeries, but the tribunal said there was no “evidential basis” for this. It found his misconduct proven and dishonest.
Another allegation, that the lawyer had borrowed £47,000 and €9,100 from the client – when there was an own-client conflict and no advice for the client to seek independent advice – was upheld as well.
The SDT said there was “very little in the way of mitigation”, though it accepted that Mr Lopez had repaid the sum of £183,000 “within a few days, albeit under pressure from Goldberg Segalla.”
It said Mr Lopez had made “unsubstantiated attacks” on former colleagues, clients and his former law firm.
“While he had not misled the regulator as such, he had certainly put it to a lot of trouble.”
The tribunal said the “deliberate, calculated and repeated” misconduct by Mr Lopez was “characterised by concealment and attempts to deflect blame” onto others.
“[He] ought to have known that he was in material breach of his obligations. Indeed, in the course of his defence he had made numerous representations about his obligations to the Madrid Bar.”