SINGAPORE, Jul 29 — A conveyancing lawyer of almost 30 years' standing was today suspended from practice for three years, after he falsely attested to his client signing a home loan document for the purchase of a landed property in 2014.

Mr Mohammed Lutfi Hussin's client ended up pulling off a S$2.3 million housing loan cashback scam that caught the attention of the authorities here.

In a written judgment released today, the Court of Three Judges found that Mr Lutfi “lacked insight into the shoddiness, laziness and total absence of professionalism” of his “non-system” where he delegated much of his work to his secretary.

They said that he could “count himself extremely fortunate” not to have been given a harsher punishment, perhaps even to the extent of being struck off the roll.

"Certainly, any lawyer who conducts himself or herself hereafter in a similar manner would risk an even more severe sanction than that imposed here," the judges added.

The Court of Three Judges is the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyers' misconduct.

Mr Lutfi was fined S$5,600 in June 2020 after pleading guilty to two criminal charges of falsely certifying two property-related instruments or mortgages.

He had never met his client, Mohammad Naseeruddin Allamdin, in person before certifying that the other man had signed mortgage forms for 35 Saraca Terrace off Yio Chu Kang Road.

Mr Lutfi also certified that a document on the transfer of the house was correct.

Naseeruddin defaulted on his mortgage repayment shortly after Maybank issued a loan of about S$2.3 million. He had submitted forged income documents when applying for the loan.

His was one of four housing loan cashback scams, involving more than S$11 million, that eventually led to police investigations.

'An accident waiting to happen'

Today, Justices Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Steven Chong wrote that Mr Lutfi had “demonstrated the very antithesis” of the values of being a lawyer — honour, integrity, honesty and diligence.

At the time of his offences in 2014, he was the sole director of Lutfi Law Corporation after becoming a lawyer about two decades earlier.

He would rely on his non-legally-trained secretary to prepare the documents for all conveyancing matters and he would sign them without examining their contents, assuming that they had been prepared correctly.

Justice Phang, who delivered the court’s judgment, said: “Such a ‘system’ was, to put it mildly, an accident waiting to happen. The lawyer himself lacked insight into the shoddiness, laziness and total absence of professionalism that all this entailed."

After Mr Lutfi was fined in the State Courts, a disciplinary tribunal appointed by the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) found sufficient cause of gravity to punish him for professional misconduct.

The LawSoc then argued that he should be struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors, or suspended from practice for at least 21 months.

Justice Phang said that Mr Lutfi has acknowledged his dishonesty but at the time of his offences, he did not seem to understand the impropriety of his actions.

He had filed an affidavit where he said he sincerely believed he did not do anything dishonest in signing the certificate of correctness for Naseeruddin.

Mr Lutfi’s defence counsel, Mr George Pereira, explained that he intended to convey Mr Lutfi’s subjective frame of mind back in 2014, and clarified that Mr Lutfi has since acknowledged that his conduct was indeed dishonest.

Justice Phang wrote: “At the risk of stating the obvious, members of the legal profession must have a sense of what is right and wrong, and what the public expects of them, in the course of discharging their professional duties.”

He added that Mr Lutfi’s dishonesty was “symptomatic of a defect which runs deeper than a lapse in judgment”.

Nevertheless, the judges did not think the extent of his flaws made him unfit to remain as a lawyer. This was because it did not seem that he lacked an understanding of basic standards of honesty and integrity altogether.

The judges also found insufficient evidence that Mr Lutfi was wholly neglectful of his professional duties, such that he never met his clients for all the other conveyancing transactions he was engaged in.

In considering the length of the suspension, the judges said that a stiff penalty was warranted notwithstanding his remorse, the lack of actual harm caused, and him not benefitting personally.

Justice Phang noted: “Drawing the various threads together, (his) shoddy attitude towards his work and his failure to discern right from wrong in the context of what would appear to be a straightforward case of dishonesty, signal that he lacked moral insight and judgment.

“His misconduct arose from a ‘system’... that contained the potential for harm as it related to documents which would end up on a public register. His misconduct would also tend to undermine the confidence that the public reposes in the legal profession, especially in the conveyancing context." — TODAY