SDT removes Italian lawyer from European lawyers register

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has taken Italian lawyer Gabriele Giambrone off the SRA’s register of European lawyers after finding him and two colleagues guilty of accounting irregularities.

Giambrone, managing partner of Italian firm Giambrone Law, the firm’s private client head Allessandra Bellanca, and Anna Cinzia D’Arpa, who no longer works full-time for the firm, faced 14 allegations of a breach of the professional code of conduct and accounts rules.

The SDT, ruling on 1 February, found 12 of the allegations against Giambrone were proven and ordered him to pay costs of £70,000. Eight allegations against both Bellanca and D’Arpa were proven and the duo were fined £2,000 each.

The SDT said the misconduct arose from a bulk conveyancing practice acting on behalf of clients purchasing properties abroad, mostly in Italy, from 2006.

An SRA investigation, reported by The Lawyer last year (30 January 2012), found that client files had been sent out of the country to Italy without obtaining informed consent from clients beforehand. Giambrone received clients’ deposit monies associated with their purchase of foreign, off-plan properties. He then released these deposits to developers in Italy when there were no bank guarantees in place to protect client funds and no contracts had been exchanged, despite prior express promises to clients to that effect.

The SDT found that no prior consent from clients had been obtained before their deposit monies had been sent to developers abroad. They also described Giambrone Law’s accounts as a “shambles”.

The tribunal said the allegations were serious, and also found Giambrone’s explanation in response to be unsatisfactory and said that he had offered a “self-serving” account.

SRA executive director David Middleton said: “We welcome the decision of the SDT in what was a heavily contested case. This case sends a message that clients’ interests must be protected at all times.”

The full judgement will be published on the SDT’s website in due course.

A spokesperson for Giambrone Law said: “We are happy that this investigation has now ended as we can now concentrate in our efforts to continue growing the firm in Italy and internationally. The events in question were from many years ago (2006-2007) which were principally caused by a server crash in September 2007 which the firm worked incredibly hard to rectify. The SRA did not suggest that any client or former client had lost money as a consequence and the firm candidly admitted from the outset that some accounting mistakes were made. We cannot comment further until the SDT publishes its detailed reasons.

“The findings of the SDT do not have any material impact on the current operations of Giambrone Law in Italy since the London office has been closed since April 2009. Mr Giambrone was not struck off and he will continue operating as Italian ‘avvocato’ and managing partner of the Italian firm. He does not have any immediate plans to re-apply for registration as registered European lawyer to the SRA (although he is at liberty to do so) as he is no longer practising in London on a permanent basis.”

Giambrone maintains a presence in London through a consultancy firm, Giambrone Consultancy Limited, but the spokesperson said this office did not provide any legal services.