Solicitor jailed for false accounting fails to overturn conviction

Dixit: Now out of jail
Photo courtesy of Northumbria Police

The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal by a former solicitor jailed more than four years ago for false accounting at his law firm.

Lord Justice Edis said there was “no sensible issue” as to whether the accounting software used by Deepankar Dixit was a “document required for an accounting purpose” for the purposes of the Theft Act 1968.

Mr Dixit and Ayaz Siddique, former partners in Newcastle firm Kingstons, were convicted of false accounting in November 2019.

Mr Siddique was also convicted of committing an act or series of acts with an intent to pervert the course of justice. They were both sentenced to two years and three months in jail.

A judge at Leeds Crown Court issued confiscation orders amounting to £205,000 in February 2022. The Solicitors Regulation Authority had intervened into the firm, which had already closed, the previous month.

Mr Dixit and Mr Siddique were struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, on the basis of their convictions and the dishonesty involved, in December 2022.

Edis LJ said that Mr Dixit, who has “long been released” from prison, applied for an extension of time for leave to appeal against his conviction and for leave to appeal.

The particulars of Mr Dixit’s false accounting offence were that he and Mr Siddique, dishonestly and with a view to gain, “falsified records required for an accounting purpose” – namely, digital records associated with a StrongBox accounts package – by omitting details of cases and fees received in a manner which was “misleading, false or deceptive”.

Delivering judgment in R v Dixit, Edis LJ said the offences came to light after police executed a search warrant at the law firm “in pursuit of an investigation into some third parties, not the firm itself nor either of the partners”.

However, the police then “discovered a very large quantity of cash which was kept in envelopes around the office and in a safe with names written on them”.

They also found “some deposit slips for cash which had been paid into the bank”, causing them to launch a new investigation which resulted in the convictions.

“Essentially the prosecution case was that this cash had been paid by immigration clients of the firm for legal services. It was not put through the books, and it did not appear on the StrongBox system but was rather divided between the defendants and another person.

“Evidence for the division was found in a deleted spreadsheet found on a laptop but nowhere else.”

The judge went on: “It was said that that deleted spreadsheet effectively gave the game away. The purpose of hiding this cash was no doubt to avoid having to account for it to HMRC and pay tax on it.”

At trial, the defence argued that the spreadsheet, which had been given to the firm’s accountants, was the real accounting record of the business and that the StrongBox system was not – they had not hidden the spreadsheet because they had given it to their accountant and their accountant gave evidence on their behalf in the trial.

In his appeal, Mr Dixit submitted that there was no evidence that StrongBox was made or required for an accounting purpose

However, Edis LJ said Mr Dixit and Mr Siddique kept records of “most but not all of their transactions” on the system.

“In reality there could be no sensible issue as to whether the StrongBox package was a document required for an accounting purpose. Of course it was. The solicitors are required to keep accounts and they chose to do so using the StrongBox system. That is why it was in their office.

“The fact that there was no direct evidence, so it is suggested, showing that this accounting package was an accounting package appears to us to be of no consequence.”

The solicitor also argued that the trial judge “erred by including a direction on joint enterprise”, which expanded the indictment and may have caused a “lack of focus” for the jury.

Edis LJ said the joint enterprise direction “quite clearly related only to the position of Mr Siddique” and “did not affect the position of Mr Dixit at all”, meaning that any criticism of the direction “could only sensibly be advanced by Mr Siddique”.

He said counsel for Mr Dixit had had “made a valiant effort to separate the wheat from the chaff” but had “failed to identify any wheat”.

He dismissed the solicitor’s applications. Mr Justice Jeremy Baker and Sir Robin Spencer contributed to the judgment.

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