A law firm director who let clients pay the full stamp duty land tax, then amended the forms to reduce liability and pocket the difference, has been banned from the profession.
Munpreet Singh Virdee, a solicitor with west London firm Reemans, was struck off following a one-day hearing in July at which it was outlined he continued the practice of falsifying tax forms for four years.
The tribunal heard that Virdee deliberately falsified figures on 36 stamp duty land tax forms with the intention of underpaying. These payments amounted to almost £312,000 in total, although he contested it was that much. Investigators found that for each matter, the purchase price recorded at HM Land Registry was higher than that declared by the firm and submitted on behalf of the client to HMRC as a tax return.
The solicitor of 19 years told the SRA that the clients concerned authorised and confirmed the completion of their SDLT form, and he accepted it was after then that they were altered. The tribunal heard that at the time of investigators’ report, he had paid back only £8,500, and Virdee said he had since sold his house to pay the remainder of the shortfall. The SRA said members of the public would be ‘appalled’ at how Virdee acted and he admitted himself he had been dishonest.
In his submissions, Virdee insisted he did not directly benefit from any of the proceeds, with all surplus monies ending up in the firm’s office account. He listed times when HMRC was overpaid SDLT during the period in question, and he also claimed that genuine errors were made due to a staff shortage leaving him doing the work of four different people.
The tribunal said Virdee’s misconduct was ‘deliberate, calculated, repeated and had continued over a significant period of time’. He had concealed his conduct from colleagues and initially blamed the tax payment shortage on errors when he knew that was not the case.
Virdee was also found to have allowed ‘round sum’ transfers from the client account to the office account. He agreed that the firm had not been entitled to the sums transferred – which came to more than £6,600 – and told the SRA he did it for the ‘survival of the office’.
He was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £21,752 in costs.