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Law Firm Bosses Fined Over Property Development Fiasco

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The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has fined two directors £17,500 each based on their role in a failed apartment development scheme.

The two directors, Siu Yung Alan Ma and Daniel Chung, were formerly directors of law firm Maxwell Alves. The London-based firm, which is no longer trading, was acting for clients looking to invest in an off-plan property development scheme. In a little over 12 months, Maxwell Alves acted on behalf of 42 investors, eventually handling £3.6m in deposits and receiving £35,000 in respect of costs payments. At the tribunal hearing, it was revealed that 40% of the monies received were spent on ‘sales and marketing commissions’.

Lack of Experience

It was also revealed that Cheung sent so-called ‘frustration letters’ to clients, threatening them with legal proceedings if they brought a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman. He admitted to having sent the letters, even though he knew they were threatening in tone, but claimed that he had subsequently and promptly taken legal advice and sent additional letters to put remedy the situation. The tribunal acknowledged his sincerity on this point, saying Cheung found himself out of his depth in a difficult situation.

The two solicitors argued that they were also victims, saying that they were also deceived by the developer as the scheme had not been financially viable from the start. The tribunal concluded that Ma had failed ‘to go the extra mile’ for his clients and had missed the higher level view with regard to what was actually happening. The experienced solicitor had been taking Scottish law exams whilst also setting up an office in Hong Kong and ‘taken his eye off the ball and had abdicated his supervisory duties to staff who were less experienced’. Cheung, admitted in 2010, was found to lack the experience of his colleague, but he shared the responsibility of ensuring proper advice was given to clients. In addition to the £17,500 fines, each solicitor was also ordered to pay £22,000 in costs.

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