A solicitor who overcharged a client for their stamp duty and paid the excess to an unknown third party has been struck off.
Simon Sui Ping Hsu was also found to have lied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) about being at his ill mother’s bedside in Hong Kong – when in fact he was in London – in a bid to avoid dealing with the regulator.
Mr Hsu, who qualified in 1990, was a consultant at North London firm Swan & Dale, predominantly dealing with conveyancing matters involving Chinese clients.
According to a statement of agreed facts and outcome approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, he acted for clients buying a property for £625,000 and provided a completion statement to them recording stamp duty of £40,000.
However, the completion statement held on file put the stamp duty at £21,250, with “agent commission” of £18,199.
The latter sum was sent to ‘WCS’, a company based in Hong Kong, and said to be for finding the property and other services, including feng shui advice. The clients said they had never heard of WCS – they had used an agent in the UK – and did not authorise the payment.
The SRA said Mr Hsu “has provided no explanation as why there are two different completion statements in existence, who WCS are and for what purpose they were used, if at all, in [the] transaction”.
Further, at the outset of the matter, Mr Hsu asked the clients to pay him £700 in cash, which they believed to be a deposit for their legal costs. He provided a receipt but the payment was not passed on to the firm. Again, he provided no explanation for this.
The SRA tried to contact Mr Hsu in January 2020, having been told by the firm that he was in Hong Kong on compassionate leave.
By email, he said his mother was in intensive care and the following month told the SRA that coronavirus restrictions meant he could not leave the hospital. He ignored subsequent requests in March and April for contact details and to answer various questions.
In March 2020, the SRA served a notice on Mr Hsu’s bank, requiring it to provide copies of bank statements, and these helped the regulator to establish that he was actually in London at the time, which he later admitted.
In mitigation, Mr Hsu said he had retired from practice due to mental health issues and the ill health of his mother. He claimed too that he was suffering from anxiety due to her illness and this impacted his cooperation with the SRA. However, he admitted that he had acted dishonestly.
Agreeing that he should be struck off, the tribunal said it was “a serious case of professional misconduct which was aggravated by two admissions of dishonesty”, as well as Mr Hsu’s repeated use of his mother’s “claimed ill-health… as a shield to try to deflect him from scrutiny by his regulator”.
He was also ordered to pay costs of £35,000.