MORE clients have shown up at the Raffles City law firm of missing lawyer Zulkifli Amin to report missing monies and stalled deals.
Mail company manager John Sasayiah, one of at least four who had lodged complaints to police, told The Straits Times yesterday that some $26,000 was due to him from the sale of his Casablanca condominium in Woodlands.
The cheque bounced when he tried to cash it on Wednesday, and yesterday he learnt that Mr Zulkifli - from the law firm Sadique Marican & ZM Amin - had gone missing.
On Thursday, a couple reported that a cheque for $40,000 due to them, also proceeds from a property sale, had bounced.
Yesterday, more than a dozen other clients showed up at the law firm to make inquiries over their property deals that had stalled.
One client told The Straits Times she was frustrated as she understood the firm’s clients’ account had been frozen as investigations continued.
This could result in the property deal being affected if the required funds are not transferred in time.
Mr Zulkifli is understood to have skipped town on Wednesday. Money from the firm’s account is missing and the authorities are trying to establish the extent of the losses.
A Law Society spokesman said yesterday that the firm reported it ‘had discovered shortfalls and discrepancies in the client account of the firm’ following which the police were called in.
He added that the society was also conducting an inspection of the firm’s clients’ account and, jointly with the firm, advises those who have suffered losses to lodge police reports.
This appears to be the first case of a lawyer snitching funds from the clients’ account since rules were tightened earlier this year requiring two signatures for the withdrawal of sums exceeding $30,000.
Lawyers contacted said the latest incident has cast doubts on the effectiveness of the enhanced rules.
Legal officer Thomas Loh said the problem was not with the enhanced rules but with the conveyancing deals.
Ninety per cent of the incidents so far involved property deals.
What was needed was to stop the practice of placing the option fees, amounting to up to 10 per cent of the property deal, in the law firm’s clients’ account.
Instead, he suggested that it should be a cashier’s order held by the bank providing the housing loan, to be released when the sale was completed.
‘The money, when kept in the clients’ account for about three months, is open to plunder,’ he added.
Former Law Society president Peter Low said ‘the rules should be reviewed if need be’.
Lawyers who knew Mr Zulkifli, or ‘Zul’ as they called him, were shocked at the news of his disappearance.
One of them, a former classmate, said he was a ‘friendly and approachable’ person who always had a ready smile for every one.
Another lawyer said he was very interested in football and used to play regularly with his classmates and friends until his work took up most of his time.
Source : Straits Times - 24 Nov 2007