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Dodgy lawyers stealing millions from clients

Publish date: 26 September 2016
Issue Number: 4082
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: Practice

Dodgy lawyers are stealing hundreds of millions from their clients by looting trust accounts, claims a Sunday Times report. It says Peter Cowling and Christiaan Janeke are the latest lawyers to be struck off the roll, and are facing criminal charges for allegedly stealing at least R65m from their clients, many of whom were pensioners. Cowling (70) also allegedly misappropriated R1m from his church. The money was allegedly paid into his trust account after he offered to assist in the sale of church land. The two men, from Brakpan, and Janeke’s son, also a lawyer, are being investigated by the Hawks. Cowling’s assets have been attached following an application to the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) by one of his alleged victims. The Law Society of SA reportedly told the newspaper 49 lawyers had been struck off the roll last year – 24 of them for plundering trust accounts. And the Attorneys Fidelity Fund said it had paid out more than R745m over eight years to South Africans fleeced by their trusted legal advisers. To date, it has received claims totalling R82m in connection with Cowling and Janeke. Almost R19m has been paid out. LSSA co-chair Jan van Rensburg said theft of money from property sales and winding up of deceased estates was on the increase. In the year ended July, 11 230 complaints had been lodged against lawyers. ‘The theft of RAF money seems to have gone down and the trend is that conveyancing theft is increasing because there’s so much money in properties these days that the temptation is there.’

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)