By MATHEW DEARNALEY
An Auckland lawyer linked to former Mr Asia drug cartel figure Darryl Sorby is challenging a move to strike him off the law register.
Dinesh Dahyabhai Patel remains on the register, but in suspended form, and only because he has lodged a High Court appeal against a Law Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal decision to disbar him on three charges of professional misconduct.
The tribunal condemned Mr Patel, of Westmere, for a "gross" breach of his obligations to a client, and ordered him to pay costs totalling $23,300 to the Auckland and New Zealand law societies.
The three charges involved $420,000 of the client's money, which Mr Patel lent through his trust fund to other clients on September 5, 2000, to head off a mortgagee sale the next day of two neighbouring houses in New Lynn.
In a separate case this year, Mr Patel was fined for breaching the Financial Transactions Reporting Act over his handling of $400,000 in laundered drug money which he received from Sorby in 2001 for another property deal through his trust account.
Sorby, who served 12 years of a 23-year jail sentence in Australia for drug-dealing in the 1970s and early 1980s as part of the Mr Asia syndicate, was sentenced last month by the High Court at Auckland to 21 months in jail for money-laundering.
Law tribunal chairman Nigel Hampton, QC, said the lending client and his company, whose identities were suppressed, were faced with a likely loss of $250,000 to $300,000 from the New Lynn transaction.
Mr Patel told the client there were unconditional agreements to sell the two houses for $500,000.
But the tribunal heard he was not even able to obtain a subdivision certificate, and the use of the borrowed money to repay bank debts left insufficient development money.
Mr Hampton said Mr Patel took no steps to register a caveat against the properties to protect the borrowed money, despite receiving a clear directive in writing to do so.
The ultimately decisive factor in the view of five members of the six-person tribunal who voted to strike him off was his "disturbing lack of recognition" of fundamental obligations and responsibilities to the client.
Mr Hampton said Mr Patel acknowledged being prepared to sacrifice one client for another, after making what he admitted was a big mistake.
It was a gross breach of his obligations to have solicited the money on the eve of a mortgagee sale without telling the client what was happening.
The tribunal found it hard to imagine a more glaring example of a conflict of interest.
Mr Patel could not be reached for comment, but a recorded message on his office phone may need updating in view of his suspension.
It says he is either "with clients or attending to business outside the office".
Past clients have included low-income families who claimed in 2001 that he was appointed their lawyer at the insistence of finance company NZ Debt Repay, which later evicted them from their homes for getting behind on loan repayments.
The company was wound up this month.
A lawyer who sued the company on behalf of one family told the Herald yesterday that his client had been unable to recover any money from it.
Mr Patel told the High Court in March during a drug importing trial that he received four lots of $100,000 from a man called Jim Kennedy on behalf of someone known to him only as Rob, who wanted it to be used to buy a house.
The Crown said the money was used to pay for a house in Glendowie for Robert Charles De Bruin, who now faces retrial on a string of charges of money-laundering and of importing and selling the drug Ecstasy.
Jim Kennedy turned out to be Darryl Leigh Sorby, who was jailed for 21 months after admitting laundering the $400,000 he delivered to Mr Patel, largely in $20 notes.
A law society inspector told a jury during the drugs trial that under the Financial Transactions Reporting Act, Mr Patel should have notified police of any suspicious cash payments of $10,000 or more.
Mr Patel denied an allegation by De Bruin's lawyer that he received $20,000 for his services, rather than the $500 fee he reported to the court.
By MATHEW DEARNALEY