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RAF payout lands lawyer in hot water

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Sundeep Singh

Durban - A lawyer who was previously struck off the roll, has been suspended for allegedly misappropriating almost R900 000 that he should have handed to his client, who had lost her husband in a car accident.

Sundeep Singh, who has handled several high-profile cases at his Pietermaritzburg practice after being re-enrolled in 2002, was admitted to a city hospital with a heart-related condition brought on by stress after hearing of an application by the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society to have him struck off again.

In terms of an interim order granted by acting judge, Thobo Poyo-Dlwati, in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday, Singh is suspended from practising as an attorney and is interdicted from operating his trust accounts held with Standard Bank and FNB, pending the finalisation of the case.

Singh has filed a notice of intention to oppose the application and has until March 31 to show cause why a final order, which includes him being struck off the roll of attorneys, should not be granted.

The law society’s regulatory affairs manager, Pearl Arnold-Mfusi, said in an affidavit that a resolution had been taken by a committee of 17 members who voted unanimously in favour of striking Singh from the roll.

Singh was admitted in 1990. He was struck off for “unprofessional, dishonourable and unworthy conduct” in November 1993. He was successfully re-enrolled nine years later and became a conveyancer in 2004.

The basis for the application is that Singh allegedly misappropriated R876 736 of trust money that had been paid to him by the Road Accident Fund (RAF) in respect of a claim by a client, Radha Govender.

Arnold-Mfusi claimed Singh had also committed fraud by allegedly submitting falsified bank statements to members of the law society’s inspection committee who investigated the complaints.

Govender lodged a complaint with the law society last August. She said that in 2007, she had instructed Singh, who worked for Neven Singh and Associates at that time, to pursue a claim against the RAF for the loss she and her three children had suffered after her husband, the family’s breadwinner, was killed in an accident.

Singh later took over the file from the firm when he began his own practice.

Govender was told initially that the matter would be finalised by the end of 2009, but in early 2010 Singh allegedly told her that no payment had been received, and that the matter would be going to trial.

Years passed with Govender being kept in limbo and Singh allegedly deploying delay tactics, informing her that no judge was available to hear her case and that another trial date would have to be arranged.

Eventually, last May, Govender approached the RAF and was told that the full amount had been paid into Singh’s trust account on July 31, 2009.

At a meeting with Govender and her new attorney on May 23 last year, Singh allegedly admitted to receiving the funds and offered to pay the money. He allegedly indicated that he would take a bond on his business property, but failed to pay any amount to Govender.

Arnold-Mfusi said that upon receiving Govender’s complaint, the law society informed Singh that an inspection of his books and records had been authorised.

“Standard Bank printouts dated August 4, 2009, clearly reflect that payment into Singh’s trust account of R876 736 was made by the RAF,” she said.

Arnold-Mfusi said that Singh had then handed members of the inspection committee copies of bank statements purported to have been generated by FNB, reflecting that the sum was invested in an interest earning account.

However, the bank manager allegedly confirmed to the law society that these bank statements were fictitious.

“Singh has in a fraudulent manner submitted false documents to the law society members and cannot account for the funds that he received from the RAF on behalf of Govender,” Arnold-Mfusi said.

She highlighted that Singh had been previously struck from the roll for a similar offence, and that she believed he was a flight risk because the consequences of him being found guilty a second time were far more severe than the first.

Singh was first struck off after being found guilty of theft of R249 000 from a deceased’s estate. He fled to India with his family in December 1993, but returned to South Africa three months later, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years imprisonment with two years suspended. The sentence was later converted to correctional supervision. Singh also had to pay back the R249 000 he stole.

While Singh was readmitted as an attorney after claiming he had been rehabilitated, Arnold-Mfusi said that his recent behaviour showed otherwise. “There is a strong indication that he has not changed his ways at all,” she said.

l Singh has been involved in many high-profile matters, most recently representing Guru Rama Pillay whose son-in-law, Sumit Handa, is on trial for murdering Pillay’s daughter in Delhi, India.

Handa is charged with the murder of Niranjani Pillay on October 30, 2011. The Indian national claimed his 27-year-old Durban-born wife was having an affair.

Pillay, a priest at the Shree Kamatcheeammen Temple in Newlands, sought legal assistance from Singh and filed for custody of the couple’s 3-year-old son.

At the time of his suspension, Singh was still working on bringing the child to South Africa.

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