A solicitor who admitted that he had “lost control of events completely” in the final months of his firm has been suspended for two years by a disciplinary tribunal.
Over £138,000 had been misappropriated from the client account of Ashfaque Uddin Ahmed’s firm, AK Solicitors LLP.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found Mr Ahmed’s misconduct was the result of “ineptitude and incompetence”, arising out of his “inability to run the firm and failure to take control and monitor client account”.
He had provided “no proper explanation” as to how the money had been misappropriated. An “experienced conveyancer”, he had “breached the trust placed in him to honour his undertakings and to maintain proper stewardship of client monies”.
While he had not intended any harm, his “failure to properly manage the client account and to abide by his undertaking” meant the problems that led to the misappropriation were reasonably foreseeable.
Mr Ahmed had also failed to provide any information to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) from the outset of its investigation, and “had not had access to his files and thus his clients’ confidential information from at least the summer of 2015 to February 2017”.
The SDT acknowledged that Mr Ahmed had made good the losses from his personal funds and had participated fully in the investigation.
Counsel for Mr Ahmed said the solicitor was “of advancing years and ill health”, and when he failed to secure indemnity insurance, “things fell apart”. He said Mr Ahmed accepted that he had “lost control of events completely”.
The SDT heard that Mr Ahmed, born in 1944, was admitted in 2002. He set up AK Solicitors in East London in 2004; it closed at the end of 2014.
He admitted misappropriating or failing to prevent the misappropriation of at least £138,100 from client account in the six months before closure – this was proceeds of the sale of a property that the firm was meant to be holding pending the resolution of a dispute between his client and another person, to whose solicitors he gave an undertaking not to release any money until it was resolved.
Mr Ahmed also admitted failing to comply with this undertaking.
The solicitor denied acting with a lack of integrity. However, the tribunal found that his “failure to exercise proper stewardship of client monies” was serious and did lack integrity; the SRA withdrew an allegation of dishonesty, however.
“He had provided no proper explanation as to how the monies were misappropriated. Nor had he provided any proper explanation as to why he had breached the very clear undertaking that had been given.”
The SDT found that Mr Ahmed’s admitted misconduct fell “well below” the ethical standards expected by the profession and the public.
He admitted also failing to “properly and safely retain control of confidential client documentation and accounting records” and failing to provide the SRA with accountants’ reports for his firm for its last year.
The SDT suspended him from practice for two years and ordered him to pay costs of £23,700.
The tribunal imposed conditions on Mr Ahmed for a further three years following the suspension, preventing him from being a sole practitioner, a freelance solicitor or a solicitor in an unregulated firm.
He was banned too from being a COLP or COFA and a signatory on any client account.