A law firm owner who used his credibility as a solicitor to help with diamond and fine art acquisitions has been banned from practising. Naresh Chopra participated in 24 'dubious' transactions where there was no basis for his involvement as a solicitor, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard.
Chopra, 68 this year, was a manager of Ilford firm Nationwide Solicitors LLP and effectively became owner of a nearby firm, Lillywhite Williams, when one of its founding members retired.
The tribunal heard he also acted in nine transactions where instructions were given to Lillywhite Williams but where the work was carried out by Chopra and his staff at Nationwide. This was described as a deliberate course of conduct designed to deceive lenders who thought the work was being carried out by Lillywhite Williams, which was on the lenders' panels.
In judgment, the tribunal said: '[Chopra] deliberately used Lillywhite Williams to allow him to service those clients knowing full well that Nationwide was unable to do the work. '[Chopra] had given various elaborate, often contradictory, excuses during the course of his evidence... but the tribunal did not accept his explanations as they were implausible and were not credible.'
Having concealed the true position from lenders, the tribunal found dishonesty proved.
Chopra was also found guilty of providing banking facilities through a client account, acting in circumstances where there was a conflict with another company in which he owned, and withdrawing £513,500 in relation to seven transactions from a client account without client permission. Dishonesty was not proven in relation to any of these elements.
The tribunal heard that Chopra, who qualified in 1984, had been struck off the roll in 1993 after a conviction for contempt of court and for destroying and/or altering documents related to a transaction alleged to be the subject of mortgage fraud.
He was restored to the roll in 2004 but felt the Solicitors Regulation Authority had been unhappy with his restoration and stated that a number of allegations of dishonesty were made without merit.
His lawyer submitted that there had been no loss to clients through his misconduct. Chopra maintained he had been made subject to intervention on the grounds of allegations that had not been pursued. He stated there remained unbilled surplus funds of £589,000 being held by the SRA which were in the joint account at the time of intervention.
But the tribunal maintained that Chopra had not demonstrated genuine insight or remorse, despite making some admissions. None of the testimonials he provided made reference to the current disciplinary proceedings.
He was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £65,977 costs.