A solicitor who caused a £20,400 shortfall on his firm’s client account and lied to the regulator has been struck off by the disciplinary tribunal.
Chidi Umezurike, admitted in 2005, was sole principal of Kent-based firm CK Law Limited when he made improper transfers and retrospectively amended ledgers in order to keep the firm trading.
According to findings by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, Umezurike also ‘knowingly lied’ to the regulator about judgment debts during an investigation and allowed a shortfall of at least £20,433 to exist on the firm’s client account. The shortfall was caused by client money, in the form of unpaid professional disbursements, not being paid or transferred to the account.
In judgment, the tribunal said Umezurike had knowingly and consciously used monies that he knew he was not entitled to, including money from the legal aid agency and invoices paid by his clients for counsels’ fees.
‘The documentary evidence showed that he was chased by his fee earners on numerous occasions as regards the non-payment of disbursements when the firm had already been paid,’ it said. ‘His conduct had had a direct impact on experts and counsel, some of whom had to issue proceedings in order to be paid monies that the respondent had improperly and dishonestly retained.’
The tribunal found that Umezurike – who had a previously unblemished career – had acted in order to keep his firm trading.
‘His actions were planned. He had transferred monies and retrospectively amended ledgers in order to cover improper transfers made by him. The respondent was the sole person with access to the accounts, and was solely responsible for the misconduct,’ it said.
Umezurike was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £39,599.