Prominent KZN lawyer accused of duping client

2014-02-12 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Law Society has obtained an urgent high court order temporarily suspending prominent attorney Sundeep Singh over allegations that he stole over R875 000 from a client.

Singh is also accused of falsifying bank documents and presenting them to the law society.

Singh is known as a “civic minded” attorney who often represents disadvantaged members of the community.

In 2012, he was at the forefront of a legal battle by Durban grandparents Rama and Charmala Pillay to win custody of their grandson in India after their daughter, Niranjini Handa, was allegedly murdered by her husband in that country.

Recently, he represented various community organisations in Pietermaritzburg in the battle over Msunduzi’s crippling commercial electricity tariffs.

Acting Judge Thoba Poyo-Dlwati granted the urgent interim order suspending him on Monday, pending an application to permanently strike him from the attorneys’ roll.

Singh has given notice of his intention to defend the case.

If Singh is finally struck off the roll of attorneys, it will be for the second time in his life.

He was struck off for the first time on November 12, 1993 for theft of R249 000 in trust funds due to the estate of the late K.R. Singh.

In a successful plea to be re-enrolled as an attorney in 2002, Singh claimed he was so ashamed of what he had done that all he wanted to do was “go away and hide somewhere where no one could find me”.

“I just wanted to hide in the darkest corner of the Earth and to be away from anyone who knew me,” he said.

He fled to India with his wife and children on October 10, 1993, but on December 12 the same year he returned voluntarily to South Africa to face the music.

Singh subsequently repaid the stolen funds, and at his criminal trial was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment of which three years were suspended.

The sentence was later converted to correctional supervision.

In an affidavit, Pearl Arnold-Mfusi of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society said that despite Singh’s claim that he had rehabilitated himself, there is a strong indication that he “has not changed his ways at all”.

She also said she believes he is a flight risk because the consequences of being found guilty for the same offence a second time, would be more severe.

Arnold-Mfusi said the KZN Law Society council unanimously resolved on January 30 to apply to have Singh struck off on grounds that he stole R876 736,50, which was paid into his trust account by the Road Accident Fund on behalf of a client, Radha Govender.

Singh also allegedly committed fraud by falsifying bank statements to members of the Law Society’s inspection committee who were investigating the complaint against him, she said.

She said Singh (who was then working for Neven Singh & Associates) was mandated during 2007 by Govender to pursue a claim against the RAF on behalf of her and her three children after her husband was killed in a car accident.

He later took over the file when he moved to his own practice.

Govender was allegedly told at a meeting with Singh’s brother, Minnesh, towards the end of 2009 that the claim was likely to be settled by the end of that year.

However, early in 2010 Sundeep Singh allegedly told her that no payment had been received, and in October 2012 he allegedly called for copies of school reports for two of the children, claiming the actuaries needed them to compute the children’s claims.

Govender allegedly made inquiries at the RAF offices on May 20 last year and was told the RAF had paid her money into Singh’s trust account on July 31, 2009.

After being confronted by her lawyers, Singh allegedly offered to repay the money, but failed to do so.

The Law Society further alleges Singh gave them fictitious copies of bank statements, which reflected that the money paid by the RAF into his Standard Bank account had been placed in an interest-bearing investment account with First National Bank.

The case will return to court on March 31.

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