Lawyer suspended 3 years for ‘lazy and shoddy’ work for client who then scammed S$2.3m
The Court of Three Judges is the highest disciplinary body responsible for dealing with misconduct by lawyers.
Mr Lutfi was fined S$5,600 in June 2020 after pleading guilty to two criminal charges of falsely certifying two instruments or mortgages relating to the property.
He had never met his client Mohammad Naseeruddin Allamdin in person before certifying that the other man had signed mortgage forms for a property at 35 Saraca Terrace near Yio Chu Kang Road.
Mr. Lutfi also certified that a document on the transfer of the house was correct.
Naseeruddin defaulted on his mortgage repayment shortly after Maybank issued a loan of around S$2.3 million. He had submitted false income documents when applying for the loan.
He and Mr Lutfi were among 10 people implicated in four home loan repayment scams, which involved more than S$11 million and which ultimately led to police investigations.
“AN ACCIDENT IS WAITING TO HAPPEN”
On Friday, Justices Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Steven Chong wrote that Mr Lutfi had “demonstrated the very antithesis” of the values of being a lawyer – honor, integrity, honesty and diligence.
At the time of his offenses in 2014, he was the sole director of Lutfi Law Corporation after becoming a lawyer about two decades earlier.
He relied on his secretary, who had no legal background, to prepare the documents for all transfer of ownership matters and he signed them without examining the contents, assuming that they had been prepared correctly.
Judge Phang, who handed down the court judgment, said: “Such a ‘system’ was, to put it mildly, an imminent accident. The lawyer himself did not understand the poor quality, laziness and complete lack of professionalism that all involved.”
After Mr. Lutfi was fined by state courts, a disciplinary tribunal appointed by the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) found a cause of sufficient gravity to punish him for professional misconduct.
LawSoc then argued that he should be struck off the Bars and Lawyers Roll, or suspended from practice for at least 21 months.
Judge Phang said Mr Lutfi admitted his dishonesty but at the time of his offenses he did not seem to understand the impropriety of his actions.
He had filed an affidavit in which he said he sincerely believed he had done nothing dishonest in signing the certificate of accuracy for Naseeruddin.
Mr. Lutfi’s defense attorney, Mr. George Pereira, explained that he intended to convey Mr. Lutfi’s subjective state of mind in 2014 and clarified that Mr. Lutfi had since admitted that his conduct was indeed dishonest.
Justice Phang wrote: “At the risk of stating the obvious, members of the legal profession must have some idea of what is right and wrong, and what the public expects of them, in exercising their professional functions.
The judge added that Mr Lutfi’s dishonesty was “symptomatic of a deeper flaw than poor judgment”.
However, the judges did not think that the extent of his faults made him unfit to remain a lawyer. This was because it did not appear that he completely lacked an understanding of the basic standards of honesty and integrity.
The judges also found there was insufficient evidence that Mr Lutfi was fully neglect his professional duties, so that he never met his clients for all the other property transfer operations he had to manage.
Considering the length of the suspension, the judges said a harsh sentence was warranted notwithstanding his remorse, the lack of actual harm caused and the fact that he did not personally benefit from the deal.
Judge Phang noted: “Pulling together the various sons, (his) shoddy attitude towards his work and his inability to discern right from wrong in the context of what would appear to be a straightforward case of dishonesty, signal that he lacked moral insight and judgment.
“His misconduct stemmed from a ‘system’…which contained the potential for harm as it involved documents that would end up in a public registry.” His misconduct would also tend to undermine public confidence in the legal profession, particularly in the context of conveyancing.”