Solicitor told SRA client files were “locked in a safe in Pakistan”

SDT: Solicitor had no intention to provide the documents

A solicitor who told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that his firm’s client files were “locked in a safe in Pakistan” has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said the combination of “repeated excuses, the obfuscation and the failure to produce any material” in response to statutory demands by the SRA led it to conclude that Mohammed Arshad Amin had “no intention” of complying with them.

Mr Amin, admitted in 2003, was sole director of Octagon Solicitors, based in East London with a branch office in Blackburn; it also used the trading name of Central Law Solicitors.

He shut down the firm in July 2020 without formally notifying the SRA and did not pay the £23,000 premium Travelers had demanded for run-off cover. Mr Amin reportedly told his broker that would “take his chances” regarding not paying it.

The regulator had launched an investigation the previous month and found that, as of July 2019, there was a shortage of over £27,500 on client account that had existed for over a year and related to several clients.

Some £16,000 had been transferred from client to office account without documentation.

Having found that Mr Amin had failed to co-operate with the SRA’s investigation, the tribunal also found that he had acted dishonestly in failing to produce any of the documents requested by the regulator.

“The respondent had given a series of excuses, ranging from his own ill health and that of his family, to a suitcase being locked in a safe in Pakistan containing all the client files.”

The SDT said Mr Amin had “provided no evidence in support of any of these explanations for his failure to produce the documents”, which he was required to do.

“This was not a case whereby the respondent had simply buried his head in the sand and ignored the requests. He had replied to emails and was therefore fully aware of what it was that the SRA required him to produce.”

The tribunal said “the combination of the repeated excuses, the obfuscation and the failure to produce any material drove it to the conclusion on the balance of probabilities that in reality there was no intention on the part of the respondent to provide the documents that he was required to produce”.

The SDT found that Mr Amin had also been dishonest in improperly withdrawing the £16,000, which he told the SRA he had used to pay the firm’s VAT bill.

“There was no bill of costs and no authority from any client to make that transfer. The fact that he referred to a VAT bill that needed to be paid was evidence that he knew that he had made the transfer to meet an overhead and that it was improper.”

At the time of the alleged VAT payment, the office account had approximately £1,300 in it.

The SDT found as well Mr Amin failed to reconcile the firm’s accounts, to perform an orderly closure of the firm or to ensure it provided a proper standard of service or acted in the best interests of two clients who had sought advice on debt problems that ultimately he made worse.

He had shown “a complete disregard for his clients and had displayed no interest in providing the service” that they had paid for, the tribunal said.

The solicitor did not appear at his disciplinary hearing and was not represented. The tribunal said the only mitigating factor it could identify was that he had a “previously unblemished career”.

His misconduct had been “deliberate, calculated and repeated over a significant period of time”. There had been a “concealment of wrongdoing” and Mr Amin had sought to blame his bookkeeper for the breaches of the accounts rules.

He was struck off and ordered to pay just over £14,500 in costs.

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