SINGAPORE — A former lawyer who misappropriated $31,550 in legal fees from 16 clients was jailed two years and three months on Monday (28 September).
Zaminder Singh Gill had been an advocate and solicitor with Hilborne Law when he embezzled the fees before leaving for Thailand, where he has a wife and son.
While the 57-year-old Singaporean faced a total of 15 charges of criminal breach of trust for his offences committed between January 2017 and June 2019, he pleaded guilty to only five charges involving five clients. His remaining charges were taken into consideration for the sentencing.
Failed to complete work
Zaminder joined Hillborne Law in 2002 and was called to the Bar in 2005. He served the firm as a legal associate between 2016 and 2019.
In relation to the five proceeded charges against him, Zaminder’s clients had engaged his services as early as 2018, entrusting him with fees for legal services including criminal, divorce and bankruptcy proceedings.
From July last year, he became uncontactable and failed to deposit the fees in the firm’s client account. Between July and August last year, at least three clients lodged police reports against Zaminder for failing to attend to their legal matters.
Unknown to them at the time, Zaminder had actually been out of the country since 28 June last year.
On 18 July 2019, a representative of Hilborne lodged a police report against Zaminder stating that various persons had contacted Hilborne claiming that they had engaged the firm’s services through the lawyer. While these persons had paid legal fees to Zaminder, the money was not recorded in the firm’s client register nor was it deposited into the firm’s client or office accounts.
Zaminder was arrested on 14 October last year when he returned to Singapore. He claimed that he had been in Thailand – where his wife, stepson and son lived – and had broken his leg, which supposedly delayed his return.
‘Really very sorry’
Seeking a jail term of two years and three months, Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Chew told the court that taking clients’ money is “one of the gravest offences an advocate and solicitor could commit”.
“The various rules in place for how a lawyer must deal with a client’s money exist for the protection of the public and the integrity of the profession. The accused’s offences have the potential to undermine public confidence in the legal profession, and public interest therefore requires a deterrent sentence,” she added.
Addressing the court, an emotional Zaminder said that he was “really very sorry” for the offences he committed and that he had “lost everything”. He said he was willing to accept the prosecution's sentence.
Zaminder added that he hoped to resolve the issue of compensation upon his release from prison as he intended to discuss the issue with the firm through his present lawyers.
His lawyer Shiever Subramaniam, told the court that Zaminder was truly remorseful and had been the one to approach the authorities upon his return to Singapore.
Shiever added that Zaminder had used the pocketed funds not to feed his vices, but to put food on the table for his family in Thailand. He also noted that Zaminder had completed most of his clients' work and that his main failure had been to not inform his firm that he had taken on the clients.
Criminal breach of trust as an attorney carries a jail term of up to 20 years along with a possible fine.
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