R3,7 mln theft: no jail for lawyer

2017-09-07 14:06
Sundeep Singh and his daughter Karishta at court on Wednesday.

Sundeep Singh and his daughter Karishta at court on Wednesday. (Ian Carbutt)

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Struck-off attorney Sundeep Singh, who admitted to stealing more than R3,7 million from his clients, was yesterday given wholly suspended jail sentences totalling 28 years.

One of the conditions of the suspended jail sentences is that he must repay an outstanding amount of R1 915 903,52 into the account of the Attorneys Fidelity Fund within a five-­year period.

Regional magistrate Bemal Jaynarayan ordered Singh to pay at least R5 000 (or more) to the Attorneys Fidelity Fund monthly until the debt is paid in full.

Jaynarayan said on considering the totality of the facts before court he considered this to be an appropriate sentence in Singh’s case.

He said he was mindful that Singh has a previous conviction for doing the same thing. However, he also took into account that Singh’s earlier theft conviction occurred more than 20 years ago.

Jaynarayan stressed that in his opinion Singh has shown genuine remorse for his crimes.

Jaynarayan regarded as mitigating the fact that Singh played an active role “right at the outset” by helping the investigating officer and National Prosecuting Authority to compute the total amount of money he had misappropriated in circumstances where the exact amounts were unknown.

He had also repaid a substantial sum of the stolen money to the Attorneys Fidelity Fund, and was continuing to do so. The court heard that the fund accepts that he has to date repaid R1 827 506,80.

According to defence attorney Srish Partab, who appeared for Singh yesterday, additional sums totalling R95 000 that were recovered from Singh’s former practice and allegedly paid over to the KZN Law Society, have not yet been paid to the Attorneys Fidelity Fund.

A further amount of R25 000, which Singh said he has paid, has also not yet been acknowledged by the fund.

Jaynarayan said the evidence is that Singh started to repay the stolen money even before he appeared in court.

He said this demonstrated that Singh took responsibility for the theft of the money, and shows he is genuinely remorseful for what he did.

He also pleaded guilty to 10 counts of theft and did not waste the court’s resources by putting up a spurious defence.

In the judgment, Jaynarayan also referred to the testimony of Bianca Brazer from the Attorneys Fidelity Fund who testified that the attitude of the fund is that they would like the court to consider imposing a sentence that would require Singh to repay the outstanding amount of money that he stole.

At his trial, Singh testified that he had stolen money entrusted to him by clients but said the cash was not used to feather his personal nest.

He said the money was used to fund numerous medical negligence cases that he had been involved in at that time where he had to pay various experts for medical reports.

“My intention was always to repay these funds when the medical negligence matters became settled,” he said.

He said “unfortunately” apart from two of the cases that were settled, another 150 were still in the process of being settled when he was struck off the roll of attorneys after the theft came to light.

Singh said he had also used some of the funds he stole to pay for expenses in cases involving indigent clients.

At least one Pietermaritzburg lawyer who has been closely involved in a number of cases similar to Sundeep Singh’s, but who asked that his name not be published for professional reasons, was unimpressed with the sentence meted out to Singh.

“The fact that he [Singh] is a repeat offender, stole millions and wasn’t sent to jail on a partially suspended basis makes a mockery of the judicial system and undermines the public faith in it.

“Legal secretaries who stole much less were sent to jail for 10, eight and six years respectively,” he told The Witness.

Singh ‘has PTSD, depression’

The court heard that Sundeep Singh suffers from a number of serious medical illnesses for which he is receiving treatment, and a psychologist testified that he is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder following a robbery, as well as from depression. 

He is currently employed as a consultant by the National Land Claims Alliance of SA.

Local attorney Surendra Singh has also offered to employ him as a paralegal, saying he will not be permitted to have anything to do with finances.

Singh was previously struck off the roll for theft of trust funds in the 1990s. 

At the time he fled to India but later voluntarily returned to South Africa to face the music and was given a suspended sentence plus correctional supervision. He was readmitted as an attorney in 2002.

He was struck off for the second time in April 2014.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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