Top Lawyer Deregistered Over US$100 000 Scandal

Spread This News

By Mary Taruvinga

A HARARE lawyer, Lawman Chimuriwo has been deregistered after he was found guilty of misappropriating trust funds amounting to over US$100 000.

Chimuriwo was found guilty of unethical conduct by a tribunal chaired by High Court judge, Justice Felistus Chatukuta two weeks ago.

He then went on to file his mitigation which according to the tribunal court lacked weight.

The tribunal found him guilty and ordered him to be deregistered.

“It is accordingly ordered that the respondent’s name be deleted from the Register of Legal Practitioners, Notaries Public, and Conveyancers. The respondent be and is hereby ordered to pay all the expenses incurred by the applicant in connection with these proceedings,” ruled the tribunal bench.

“The respondent failed to safeguard client’s funds. Such failure warrants the respondent’s deregistration. What we find to be highly aggravating is that the complaints were presented on behalf of the Mafukidzes (Kenias and Farai) and CBZ by two of the respondent’s peers. The tone of the complaints reflects the seriousness of the transgressions and the repugnance with which the other member of the profession viewed the respondent’s conduct.

“The imposition of a fine or suspension of the respondent for a period would in our view not instill confidence of the public in the administration of justice or safeguard the collective interest of the profession in upholding the standard of the legal profession in view of our finding that the respondent misappropriated trust funds.”

Chatukuta said the aggravating factors, in this case, outweighed Chimuriwo’s mitigation.

Chimuriwo had been in practice since 2012 when he opened Lawman Chimuriwo Attorneys soon after he registered as a lawyer.

The Law Society (LSZ) successfully applied he be found guilty of unlawful conduct following a complaint brought forward by Kenias and Farai Mafukidze.

It was alleged Chimuriwo contravened the Legal Practitioners Act after withholding payment of trust money to clients without lawful cause.

He also failed to promptly pay trust money due to sellers upon demand and within a reasonable time.

Chimuriwo failed to properly keep the books of accounts and did not issue a receipt for US$250 000 that was received in the trust account, and irregularly paid out more money to a client than was in the client’s trust account.

One of the complainants, the Mafukidzes were the registered owners of stand No. 820 Mount Pleasant in Harare, and CBZ had a running mortgage balance on the property.

However, the Mafukidzes failed to service the debt and agreed with CBZ to sell the property be sold, and the proceeds are channelled to the bank to settle the debt.

The two parties entered into an agreement of sale with Anthony Machakaire who purchased the house for US$250 000, and the money was paid into Chimuriwo’s trust account.

The term of the agreement was the money would be released to the Mafukidzes upon transfer of the property Machakaire, or be paid to CBZ to liquidate the debt owed by it.

The Deed of Transfer was done on October 16, 2017, and Machakaire paid the full purchase price into the trust account.

However, it was established Machakaire did not advise the Mafukidzes or the bank of the transaction.

In January 2018, the CBZ made a follow-up regarding the transfer of the property, and Chimuriwo responded claiming the deal was yet to be completed.

However, the CBZ was later advised by the Mafukidzes the transfer had been registered in the Deeds Office and the buyer had already taken possession of the house.

The bank then wrote a letter demanding payment from Chimuriwo who then paid US$145 000. He undertook to pay the balance of US$96 000 by March 31, 2018.

The CBZ on April 19, 2018, wrote to Chimuriwo through its lawyers complaining he had misappropriated trust funds, but he claimed he had overpaid another client Timothy Manyuchi, and denied abusing the funds stating it was not willful.

He then engaged Manyuchi about the overpayment, he undertook to pay back but failed to honour the promise.

Chimuriwo further explained he was withholding payment to the Mafukidzes because he had a dispute with them over an unpaid fee of US$3 380.

However, the tribunal concluded it was common cause Chimuriwo did not disclose and withheld the payment of trust money to a client.

It was also established that his argument he had overpaid another client was a separate charge to be handled on its own. He failed to pay the CBZ in 2017 and overpaid Manyuchi in 2018.

It was concluded by the tribunal the embattled lawyer delayed paying the money because he had misappropriated the funds.