Two Solicitors Struck Off for Aiding Unregistered Barrister to Steal from Clients

The SDT has published its judgment in relation to the striking off of two solicitors who aided a disgraced unregistered barrister to defraud clients of £172,000.

The case, which was heard by the SDT between 26th and 29th June 2023, involved Prince Fomba Goba and Waqas Hassan, solicitors at PG Solicitors (trading as Edward Marshall) (the Firm). The pair allowed £172,320 of client money to be paid to a bank account controlled by Yawar Ali Shah without permission of the clients. Shah was previously convicted of two counts of conspiracy to defraud in July 2013 and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. The matter also concerned registered foreign lawyer Syed Rafaqat Hussain and solicitor Bright Arrey-Mbi, whose cases were ultimately dismissed by the SDT.

Findings Of The Case

Prince Fomba Goba was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on 15th September 2003, and Waqas Hassan was registered as a registered foreign lawyer (“RFL”) on 20th October 2011.

According to the SDT’s judgment, Goba and Hassan allowed 14 payments to the total value of £172,320.00 to be made from the Firm’s client account to a bank account controlled by Shah between 16th September 2019 and 13th April 2021. The 14 payments were associated with five separate clients, none of whom had given permission for the payments to be made.

Goba personally received 24 payments to the value of £32,430, and Hassan received 65 payments totalling £166,940, all from Shah’s bank account.

In doing so, the SRA alleged that they had breached:

  • Principles 2, 6 and 10 of the SRA Principles 2011
  • Principles 2, 4 and 5 of the SRA Principles 2019
  • Paragraph 4.2 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs 2019, and
  • Rule 20.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 and Rule 5.1 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2019

The SRA also found that Hassan, while practising as an RFL at the Firm, permitted a minimum client account shortage of £472,320.00.

According to the findings of an investigation by the SRA’s Forensic Investigation Officer (FIO) into a NatWest bank account in the name of “R YAWAR SHAH EDWARD MARSHALL”, between 23rd January 2019 and 13th April 2021, the Firm made 86 payments with a total value of £1,788,502.81 from its client account to this Shah account. In addition, the Firm made over 124 payments with a total value of £236,839.57 from its office account to the Shah account.

What Did The SRA And SDT Conclude?

The SDT concluded that:

  • None of the five clients associated with the 14 payments totalling £172,320 gave the necessary authority for any of their monies to be paid to Mr Shah or were aware that their money had been paid to Mr Shah
  • In relation to the 14 payments of client monies, Goba and Hassan had both been “dishonest by the objective standards of ordinary decent people”; “An ordinary decent person would neither make, cause to be made, nor permit to be made a payment of client money to a third party in circumstances where the client was unaware the payment was being made to the third party, the client had not given authority to make such a payment, and there was no other good reason for the payment to be made”.
  • Goba and Hassan had also been dishonest regarding the money they had received from the Shah account.
    • The SDT stated that Goba’s “conduct in receiving these payments and not accounting for them to clients was dishonest by the objective standards of ordinary decent people. An ordinary decent person would, having received the payments, seek to account for them to the rightful owners”.
    • Regarding Hassan, the SDT stated, “Despite being aware that payments of client money had been made to the Shah Account without authorisation or any other good reason, the Second Respondent [Hassan] did not seek to account to clients for any client monies that he received as a result of the 65 payments he received between 3rd January 2018 and 6th January 2021 from the Shah Account”.
  • It was “very likely” that one or more of the payments sent by Shah to Goba and Hassan were mixed with client monies.
  • During the SRA’s investigation process, Goba and Hassan provided the SRA with forged documents and incomplete and misleading information, and
  • Goba nor Hassan engaged in the SDT disciplinary process and did not provide any answers to the allegations made against them.

In relation to the allegations against Mr Hussain, the SDT “did not find any of the SRA’s allegations concerning Mr Hussain to be proved in accordance with the civil standard of proof”. And regarding Mr Arrey-Mbi, the SDT found that he “had not, in reality, been a partner of the firm, salaried or otherwise and, therefore, it did not find any of those allegations concerning him proved to the required, civil, standard”.

Sanctions Imposed By The SDT

On the basis that all allegations against Goba and Hassan were proved, the SDT made the decision to strike them from the Roll of Solicitors. The judgment states, “The Tribunal observed that this had not been a fleeting or momentary lapse of judgment, but it had been repeated misconduct involving dishonesty and mis-direction by the use of forged documents…the profession had no place for dishonest solicitors”. Both Goba and Hassan were ordered to pay costs of £54,905 jointly and severally. The cases of Mr Hassain and Mr Arrey-Mbi were both dismissed.

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