Non-lawyers banned for taking money and forging signatures

SRA: Banning orders

Two non-lawyers who between them misappropriated £1m from their different law firms’ bank accounts have been banned from working in the profession.

In notices issued this week, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) also banned a non-lawyer owner of an alternative business structure for fabricating a solicitor’s signature.

Canan Oztas worked as a costs negotiator and in the accounts team of North London firm Miya Solicitors from January 2018 to April 2022. Her role permitted her to make payments of up to £10,000 from the firm’s accounts without approval from others.

The SRA found that, during that time, she made 182 improper payments totalling £744,000 from Miya’s bank account to her own. This was money that had been paid by clients on account of costs and/or disbursements.

Of the payments, 147 were requested and authorised by Ms Oztas on her own. A further 23 were requested and authorised by a (now) former accounts assistant at the firm who was Ms Oztas’s assistant and acted at Ms Oztas’s request.

The remaining 12 were requested by Ms Oztas and co-authorised by her and a director of Miya.

“There is no suggestion or allegation that the assistant or the co-director provided knowing assistance to Ms Oztas or connived or conspired with her in any way,” the SRA said.

Mazamal Ali Sharif worked at Slough firm Aston Bond as a bookkeeper and legal cashier for four years to June 2018.

Between April 2017 and June 2018, he misappropriated £348,000 from the firm’s client and office bank accounts and attempted to conceal what he had done.

The firm issued High Court proceedings and in June 2019 obtained a judgment against Mr Sharif for the amount he took plus £5,175.79 in interest.

Andrew James Thomas was an owner, manager and head of finance and administration at Birmingham firm Elvetham Law, which the SRA closed down last September because of his actions.

The notice said Mr Thomas fabricated a solicitor’s signature on an undertaking and a witness statement and impersonated the same solicitor on the telephone and in written correspondence with another law firm.

Further, he “caused or allowed to be caused withdrawals from Elvetham Law Limited’s client account which led to a minimum cash shortage of £20,809 as at 31 May 2022”.

In the six months up to the firm’s closure, Mr Thomas also failed to carry out client account reconciliations or properly maintain the firm’s accounting records.

Finally, the SRA has banned Aaron Jamieson, formerly a billing co-ordinator at City giant Hogan Lovells, after he was twice convicted for using a travel card that did not belong to him.

Last year, he was found to have made 131 journeys and underpaid fares by £308 over three months.

He then admitted to the firm that he had been convicted of the same offence in 2020, leading to a fine, costs and a victim surcharge totalling £330 at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court.

Hogan Lovells dismissed Mr Jamieson for serious misconduct and reported him to the SRA. Subsequently, he was convicted of the 2022 offences at Lavender Hill Magistrates’ Court and ordered to pay a fine, costs and a victim surcharge totalling £544.

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