A solicitor who claimed she transferred over £250,000 from her firm’s client account to third parties amid threats to her life has been struck off.
Maureen Chinedu Agada said she was scared of being killed if she did not make the payments and she transferred some of the money to charities.
Rejecting her defence of duress, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said Mr Agada had provided “no evidence” of threats to her life.
“It was not clear whether her position was that the threats were made orally, in writing, in person or by telephone.
“[She] had provided no detail as to the immediacy of the threat or what steps she took, or considered taking, to protect herself, for example contacting the police.”
The tribunal noted that 28 improper transfers had been made over “a period of months”, and Ms Agada’s defence of duress “appeared inconsistent” with her claim that the money had gone to good causes.
“The tribunal found it implausible that a solicitor could be threatened into making charitable donations.”
The SDT noted that some of the improper payments were for Ms Agada’s “own benefit” and that of the firm, but overall it said was unclear why she had acted as she had.
Ms Agada was admitted to the roll in 2006, and practised with Ademola Weston at Maus Solicitors in south-east London.
The firm was instructed by a client referred to as Ms S in 2012 to buy a property for £400,000, with Ms Agada as the fee-earner, but the transaction did not complete.
Ms Agada told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in 2017 that Mr A, who attended the office on behalf of Ms S, was “an associate of Mr S, Ms S’s father, and that he was helping him with his political campaign in Nigeria”.
Ms Agada said the firm received funds of £400,000 for the house purchase not from Ms S, but from a business referred to by the tribunal as W.
The firm’s client ledger account showed a series of payments in 2012 and 2013, totalling £146,500 to various third parties, but there was no evidence that the client had requested or authorised the payments.
Ms Agada told the SRA that some of the payments were made to money transfer businesses which enabled payments to be made from the UK to Nigeria.
The client ledger account showed two further payments totalling £80,000 to the firm’s business account in 2013. Of this, a series of payments worth £58,000 were made to a money transfer business.
Ms Agada admitted not having the authority of Ms S to make the payments, but people were “coming to my office to threaten me” that she would “either be killed or lose out”.
When asked by the SRA why she was scared, Ms Agada replied: “If you know what political people do to people in Nigeria you’d be scared, so whichever way I go I’m going to lose.”
When asked if she was “scared of physical violence”, the solicitor replied: “Even killing.”
A review by the SRA’s investigating officer of three further client ledger accounts revealed further improper payments.
Ms Agada was found by the tribunal to have acted dishonestly in making the payments.
She was also found to have failed to properly record transactions on the office side of client account entries and to have sufficient regard to her duties under the Money Laundering Regulations, especially as Ms S’s father was potentially a politically exposed person.
However, an allegation against her that the firm had no effective anti-money laundering policy was dismissed.
Ms Agada’s fellow partner, Ademola Weston, admitted failing to prevent improper payments to third parties and properly record transactions in the office side of client ledgers.
Counsel for Mr Weston told the tribunal that he had been “unaware of the misappropriation of funds” until the SRA investigation in 2017.
The tribunal said his misconduct related to “omissions rather than commissions” – though he bore some responsibility, it said his trust had been breached.
Ms Agada was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £8,000 in costs. Mr Weston was reprimanded by the tribunal and not made subject to any costs order after it heard that he was living a local church rent-free and “had no means to satisfy a costs order”.