A BULAWAYO lawyer, Mr James Mutsauki, is on the run and the High Court has ordered his law firm to be placed under curatorship after the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) detected alleged trust fund fraud involving more than $30,000.
The ruling by Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Martin Makonese yesterday follows an urgent chamber application by the LSZ which sought an order to have the law firm placed under curatorship for defrauding clients.
Justice Makonese also granted an order suspending Mr Mutsauki from practising as a lawyer for six weeks and ordered the LSZ to appoint its deputy executive secretary, Mr Wilbert Pfungwadzashe Mandinde, as curator pending investigations into the alleged fraud.
Curatorship means that the law firm will cease operations and have someone from outside the organisation put in charge to manage its activities.
The judge also ordered the LSZ to immediately take control of James Mutsauki Attorneys’ trust accounts and administer them.
The law firm was in May this year ordered to close its offices after Mr Mutsauki failed to renew his practising certificate for 2016.
Mr Mandinde, in his founding affidavit, said the LSZ feared that Mr Mutsauki, who is at large, could have committed acts of unprofessional conduct by abusing funds from his law firm’s trust account.
The law firm is also in rental arrears of $7,765,28 and owes a taxi operator $82 for services rendered.
In April, James Mutsauki Attorneys allegedly swindled a local estate agent, Gwande Properties, of $16,000 in a botched house deal.
Mr Mutsauki also specialises in the legal aspects of buying and selling of real estate.
The LSZ also accused James Mutsauki Attorneys of defrauding one Ms Nokuthula Ncube of $1,500 in May. The money was meant to facilitate the transfer of a property. The transfer has not yet been done.
Mr Mandinde said it was necessary for the LSZ to be given a mandate to take control of James Mutsauki Attorneys and investigate the motive behind Mr Mutsauki’s disappearance, which is allegedly linked to the manner he managed the trust funds.
The LSZ is threatened with claims amounting to $3 million emanating from theft, fraud, forgery and dishonest practices from some of its members, with deregistered Bulawayo law firm Cheda and Partners having the highest claim at $1 million.
The LSZ administers a fund aimed at compensating members of the public who would have incurred losses due to theft, fraud and other dishonest practices committed either by a registered legal practitioner or their employees.
In two years, 13 firms have been placed under curatorship.
Cheda and Partners was shut down in April last year after the LSZ detected alleged fraudulent transactions running into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The law firm’s demise first saw its three senior partners, Sindiso Mazibisa, Mlamuli Ncube and Nqobizitha Ndlovu surrendering their practising certificates. They were later suspended by the LSZ pending fraud investigations, one of which was the alleged theft of $335,000, held in trust by Mazibisa.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said the Government is worried about the increase in bogus and unscrupulous lawyers who are defrauding the public.
The VP, who oversees the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry, said the Government had noted the worrying reports of people who have lost money and property to unruly lawyers. chronicle