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Ex-lawyer admits misappropriating over $525k from vulnerable client

Ex-lawyer admits misappropriating over $525k from vulnerable client

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 23 Apr 2024
Author: Nadine Chua

Soraya Hafsa Ibrahim pleaded guilty to three charges, including one charge of preparing legal documents when she had been disbarred as a lawyer.

A former lawyer was convicted of criminal breach of trust on April 22 for misappropriating over $525,000 of her client’s money, which she later used for personal expenses and debt repayments.

Soraya Hafsa Ibrahim, 58, pleaded guilty to three charges, including one charge of preparing legal documents and accepting a fee when she had been disbarred as a lawyer. Another charge of criminal breach of trust will be taken into consideration during sentencing, which was adjourned to May 3.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Niranjan Ranjakunalan and Gladys Lim said Soraya, who was the sole proprietor and only lawyer at Soraya H. Ibrahim & Co, was hired by the first victim, identified in court documents as V1.

In 2019, V1 engaged Soraya to assist him with legal matters relating to the administration of the estate of his late mother.

V1 has borderline intellectual functioning, where a person is not intellectually disabled but has below average cognitive ability, and was partially dependent on a caregiver, who monitored and cooked for him. Despite this, V1 was found fit by the Institute of Mental Health to be an administrator of his mother’s estate.

After a bank account was opened and funds from the estate’s assets were deposited into it, Soraya began thinking about using the money in that account to tide over her financial difficulties, said the prosecution.

Soraya asked V1 to sign cheques that she used to withdraw a total of $527,002 from his account, depositing the cash into her own account. The DPPs said she used the money to pay for her personal expenses, including credit card payments, and debt repayments to banks, friends and relatives.

The prosecution added that V1 had entrusted Soraya with the account, and was neither aware of nor consented to her using the money withdrawn for her personal expenses. Full restitution has since been made to V1.

A lawyer who commits criminal breach of trust in relation to property he is entrusted with may be jailed for life or jailed for up to 20 years, and may be liable to a fine.

The court also heard that in 2021, another victim, V2, contacted Soraya as he wanted his mother to be listed as a legal owner of a flat. Soraya took on the matter and collected a fee of $10,000, despite having been disbarred in 2020 for deceiving a client into handing over $25,000 that she issued bogus receipts for.

While she told V2 that she was not a practising lawyer and was instead running a consultancy firm, she did not disclose that she was not allowed to practise as a lawyer and hence could not handle his legal matter.

V2 lodged a police report in 2022 as there was little progress on the matter that he had engaged Soraya for. She has since made full restitution to V2.

Seeking a sentence of between 60 and 80 months’ jail, as well as a heavy fine – the amount being left to the court’s discretion – the prosecution said Soraya’s offences demonstrated a complete disregard for the interests her clients had engaged and trusted her to protect, and brought disrepute to the legal profession.

“The severity of the abuse of trust in the instant matter is undeniably heightened by the fact that V1 was especially vulnerable because of his borderline intellectual functioning,” added the DPPs.

In mitigation, defence lawyers Shashi Nathan and Harjeet Kaur said their client had not been motivated by greed, but had wanted to help her son, who had amassed a debt of almost $600,000.

Noting that their client is remorseful, the defence added: “This is not Soraya as a lawyer, but as a mother. While this is in no way an excuse for her actions, what this mother was thinking was, ‘How do I save my son?’”

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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