A former law firm director believed to have misappropriated around £175,000 of client money before his business closed has been banned from the profession.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Nato Zondagh, admitted in 2007, had collected the money on four different client matters but when his firm closed he informed the SRA the firm did not hold any client money.
In two cases, he took money from clients to pay Land Registry fees and stamp duty land tax on their property purchases. The fees and SDLT were never paid for either client. In another case, deposit money of £13,000 on the purchase of an investment property was supposed to be held by Zondagh’s firm but never returned.
The tribunal said the funds had gone missing whilst in Zondagh’s control, and it was found as fact that he had misappropriated client monies. In all four cases the clients affected had to go through the compensation fund to make good their losses.
The tribunal said the solicitor left his clients ‘high and dry’ and suffering financial loss and personal stress, with a ‘significant’ consequential damage to the reputation of the profession.
The judgment added: ‘It appeared that [Zondagh] and his firm had benefitted in the region of £175,000 to which he had not been entitled and it was therefore not an unreasonable assumption that his motivation had been a financial one.’
Zondagh, 46, was manager and owner of west London firm Excelsior Solicitors Limited until its closure in October 2018. He did not appear for his two-day hearing before the tribunal in January and was not represented, having not engaged with disciplinary proceedings at any stage.
He was found dishonest on all four counts. He was also found to have failed to reply to SRA communications following the closure of his firm.
Zondagh had been fined £12,000 following a previous appearance before the tribunal, when he and another individual was found to have failed to keep proper accounting records. This time he was struck off and ordered to pay £22,200 costs.