Solicitor avoids strike-off despite lying to SRA and insurer

SDT: Exceptional circumstances

A solicitor who lied to both his regulator and insurer about improper withdrawals from client account of almost £670,000 by a conveyancer he employed has been suspended and not struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Keyvan Zamanpour admitted dishonesty, which would normally lead to a strike-off, but the tribunal ruled that there were exceptional circumstances in his case, including evidence from a psychiatrist, which made it disproportionate for him to be struck off.

In a significantly redacted ruling – to keep details of both the solicitor and the conveyancer private – the SDT said that Mr Zamanpour made an “immediate decision” not to report the withdrawals once he discovered them in May 2019 and “continued not to do so for seven months”.

He admitted making a false statement on his indemnity insurance proposal form in September 2019, “to the effect that there were no material circumstances that needed to be disclosed”.

The following month he told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that there were “no issues or qualifications” to be reported in respect of his firm, Pennine Kennedy based in Manchester.

Then in January 2020 he told an SRA investigator that he was “not aware of any misuse of client money” or problems with the firm’s accounts, but confessed what had happened the following day.

The tribunal said Mr Zamanpour was “not a risk to the public” as his behaviour was “highly unlikely ever to be repeated” and he had taken “immediate and decisive action” to ensure that no client lost out as a result of Person A’s actions – the money was replaced within three months.

The SDT heard that the solicitor, admitted in 2011, employed his wife as a practice manager and Person A as one of his conveyancers. In his evidence Mr Zamanpour said Person A was a paralegal with several years of experience training to be a licensed conveyancer.

Following an anonymous complaint, the SRA investigated Pennine Kennedy in January 2020.

The regulator found that between August 2018 and May 2019, Person A had made 64 improper withdrawals from client account, totalling £669,900.

Books of accounts were not compliant with the accounts rules because of “multiple incorrect postings” along with “manipulation and falsification” by Person A.

Mr Zamanpour became aware of the unauthorised withdrawals in May 2019 and Person A confirmed them. Person A had concealed his actions by altering the client account statements.

The tribunal said the solicitor failed to alert the SRA because he was concerned that his firm would be shut down, putting his staff out of work, and because of his “serious concerns as to Person A’s health” as well as the possibility he would be prosecuted. Person A left the firm in December 2019.

The SDT said that although there were “a number of instances of concealment and misrepresentation, they all arose out of a single event”. The solicitor had shown “genuine insight and remorse” and “once he had come clean to the SRA”, he co-operated with the investigation.

The SDT said it had been persuaded, particularly by the evidence from Mr Zamanpour’s psychiatrist, that the circumstances were exceptional and “inextricably linked to the dishonesty”, as required by the leading case of James.

Mr Zamanpour was suspended for six months and ordered to pay costs of £30,000.

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