THE prevailing economic challenges characterised by the liquidity crunch, closure of companies and high unemployment has not spared the legal fraternity, with an increasing number of the learned counsels turning into criminals.
Only this week, Harare lawyer Simbarashe Tsaurai (30), who was convicted of raiding a legal firm’s trust fund and stealing $35 000 deposited by clients, was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison.
Like any other Zimbabweans who are reeling under the hardships of day-to-day running of their families and businesses, the same scenario has been operating for many lawyers who have since decided to abandon trustworthy for criminality.
Of late, a number of lawyers have appeared in the courts over allegations of embezzlement of client’s funds.
This has resulted in the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) closing some firms and deregistering legal practitioners for lack of professional conduct.
Several lawyers have lost their practicing certificates due to the de-registration by the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal [LPDT] which is chaired by a High Court judge, while other lawyers have skipped borders and turned fugitives after swindling client’s trust funds.
Last year, LPDT de-registered four lawyers and closed three law firms for failing to uphold ethics and operating in premises that were deemed to bring the name of the legal profession into disrepute, among other things.
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LSZ president Lloyd Mhishi blamed most of the errant lawyers for being greedy at the expense of professionalism.
“Let me be clear on this issue of errant lawyers who are being taken to court on the wrong side of the law. Some of these lawyers’ only get into the profession for the purposes of fleecing clients’ money just because of being greedy. It is those individuals that have brought the name of the profession into disrepute,” Mhishi said.
He said LSZ had intensified efforts to monitor the operations of all the legal practitioners to ensure that public funds were protected.
“Lawyers are very much aware that trust funds are sacred funds. Lawyers must not touch trust funds no matter what kind of situations they find themselves in. It is a no go area,” Mhishi said.
He said the increasing number of lawyers being caught on the wrong side of the law was due to the fact that more law students were graduating from the country’s universities.
“I think it is also important to note that the increase in the number of cases involving lawyers fleecing trust funds is also being caused by the increase in the number of lawyers each year. So far this year alone, we have registered 57 new lawyers and that explains the current situation that we are facing these days,” Mhishi said.
“But, let me assure the public that we have increased an awareness campaign to educate the public that they must report any case involving such errant lawyers because as professionals, we want the public to be confident with us and know that we ensure them maximum protection of their funds.”
Some of the lawyers that have been de-registered of late include Tapera Sengweni, Tendai Hangazha, Taurai Mapfunde, Toendepi Mahaso, Edmond Chivhinge, Blessing Nhambure, Cremmah Chipere, and Martin Chasakara The cases of four other lawyers — Walter Chikanda, Cremmah Chipere, Toindepi Mahaso and Martin Chasakara — have been deferred.
The LSZ had received various complaints against these lawyers and it was convinced they did not deserve to continue in the practice.
Chivhinge was taken to LPDT over allegations of funds embezzlement, failing to pay Zimra dues on behalf of the clients and failure to pay commission to an estate agent after a transaction.
Nhambure was de-listed following her conviction in a corruption case in which she was jointly charged with a Chegutu magistrate.
They allegedly corruptly facilitated a marriage at the courts and she was convicted of soliciting or accepting a bribe.
Chasakara was de-registered from the register of legal practitioners on allegations that he used a fake High Court date stamp on a notice of opposition prepared on behalf of a client, while Chipere and Chikanda were accused of abusing trust funds.
Another Harare lawyer Taurai Simbarashe was arrested on forgery and theft of trust property charges involving an undisclosed amount of cash. Simbarashe allegedly lured the complainant into believing he was working with Select Housing Trust, a non-existent firm.
He allegedly forged Harare City Council documents in an effort to make his “client” believe that Select Housing Trust existed.
On theft of trust property, Simbarashe allegedly withdrew an undisclosed amount of money from the law firm he worked for, claiming that it was going to their clients and other business partners.
A Bulawayo lawyer Masimba Munjanja, was slapped with a five-year jail term for stealing his client’s R30 000.
Munjanja was early this year deregistered by LPDT for a number of shortcomings and in Zvishavane, Margaret Dutiro was incarcerated for an effective three years for stealing $20 000 from her clients.
In Redcliff, Tapera Sengweni was arrested on three counts of stock theft and one count of abusing trust funds.
He was also accused of stealing $12 794 from Nicholas Masuku of Mbizo. Prominent Bulawayo lawyer Sindiso Mazibisa was accused of swindling a South Africa-based businessman, Titus Ncube, who wanted to buy shares in the attorney’s mining entity worth $350 000.
Recently, a prominent Harare lawyer, Edson Tapiwa Mudambanuki, appeared in court after fleecing a client in a $250 000 property deal, but when the matter was set for trial, he compensated the complainant, leading to the withdrawal of the criminal charges against him.
Another Harare lawyer Thomas Sakutukwa is in custody over allegations of fleecing clients’ trust funds involving over a hundred thousands of dollars.
Mhishi said his organisation would not hesitate to deal firmly with lawyers caught on the wrong side of the law.
“We don’t tolerate unprofessional conduct and we are cleaning up cases which have come to the LSZ,” he said.
“We investigate and take appropriate action with regards to all the complaints we receive.”