A London solicitor handling six-figure international transactions with no experience of ever having done so has been suspended indefinitely.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found that Biplab Jumar Poddar, who practised from Hamlet Solicitors LLP, accepted £122,000 from a Chinese client and subsequently paid out £112,000 of those funds to third parties.
Poddar, 47, failed to establish the identity of parties involved in the transaction and relied upon his own supposed personal knowledge and trust. The tribunal found he knew about anti-money laundering regulations but chose to fail to comply with them, failing to ask any searching questions of parties paying or receiving funds into a client bank account.
A so-called financial services agreement sent by the client to prepare the escrow agreement contained ‘very basic’ spelling mistakes, errors and confusing clauses. The tribunal found these mistakes were obvious and would have sounded ‘alarm bells’ to any solicitor who read the document that this had the hallmarks of being dubious.
The tribunal concluded that it appeared Poddar ‘never stopped to consider that the parties had hidden and vest interests and had chosen him, a solicitor with no practical experience in international transactions of high value, as their puppet, and someone who would not ask the searching and probing questions which were required in these circumstances.
‘In essence, he had surrendered his independence and he carried out whatever his client told him to do.’
The tribunal added that his actions were not spontaneous and he pursued a course of action ‘blind to his own lack of expertise’ in such matters. In doing so he breached the general trust the public placed in a solicitor.
Poddar denied allegations made against him. He argued the transactions had not been dubious and he had at all times acted in good faith, in the best interest of his client and with professional independence.
In mitigation, he pointed to his unblemished 10-year career as a solicitor and full co-operation with the SRA.
The tribunal opted not to strike him off but insisted the suspension must allow a ‘period of reflection and insight’ and time for further training. He must pay £26,000 in costs.