Former Hammonds Brussels head charged clients for holidays

The former head of legacy Hammonds’ Brussels offices, Konstantinos Adamantopoulos, has been found guilty of dishonesty after charging the cost of family holidays to clients.

In a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) judgment published recently, Adamantopoulos was banned from working for or having an interest in any solicitors’ practice or any body recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The tribunal found that he utilised Hammonds’ funds without authorisation and billed the costs of travel and accommodation for family holidays to clients.

The SRA brought the case against Adamantopoulos in 2013 and the allegations were heard before the SDT in a series of hearings last year.

Adamantopoulos was a partner at Hammonds prior to its 2011 merger with legacy Squire Sanders & Dempsey and managed the Brussels office for a number of years. He is Greek and Belgian-qualified but never practised as a solicitor; nevertheless the SDT held that it had jurisdiction over the case due to Adamantopoulos’s interests in the UK-headquartered firm.

The SRA alleged that Adamantopoulos used firm money to pay a portion of the 2009 capital call made against shareholders in failed volume business Hammonds Direct. The SRA said he used €36,000 of funds from the Brussels office ‘general account’ to pay a portion of the £75,000 cash call.

Adamantopoulos also claimed back €12,400 from the firm in relation to set-up costs for a personal company established for tax purposes in Belgium. The judgment said other members of staff in Brussels had set up similar companies, but had not claimed for the set-up costs.

According to the judgment Adamantopoulos also charged the costs of several family holidays to clients, to countries such as Greece, Switzerland and the Dominican Republic. Adamantopoulos argued that he had worked for the clients while away, but the tribunal found against him.

It said that in all the transactions Adamantopoulos had been “dishonest by the ordinary
standards of reasonable and honest people”.

“He had billed expenses which were not properly chargeable to clients, for his own benefit and more particularly he had failed to be transparent in his descriptions of the expenses; indeed,
he had concealed their true nature,” the SDT judgment said.

The judgment also reveals that Adamantopoulos had been consistently overdrawn on his partnership account and when he left the firm he was overdrawn by €79,000. The SDT found that this was because he had “consistently taken more in drawings than was ultimately allocated to him after the end of a financial year”.

Connected with the issue of overdrawings, Adamantopoulos’s lawyer, Bruno Blainpain of Brussels firm Marx Van Ranst Vermeersch & Partners raised as evidence the issue of “inflated” billing figures in the 2003 financial year. As a result of this Hammonds was forced to adjust the value of an equity point down in the 2004 financial year to just £2,200 a point.

“The effect of this was that the respondent, as one of the highest ranking partners, only had £57,000 profit that year,” said the SDT.

The judgment also revealed that profit per point in 2004/05 was £2,500, but equity partners had been drawing down on an expectation of £12,000 per point per annum.

In February 2005 The Lawyer revealed that Hammonds had overpaid partners by as much as £3m in the 2004/05 financial year.

Blainpain submitted that the overdrawings in 2003 had caused Adamantopoulos’s later problems.

Much of the evidence before the SDT was given by Peter Crossley, who took over as managing partner of Hammonds in 2004. Crossley is currently European managing partner of Squire Patton Boggs following the 2014 merger between Squire Sanders and Washington DC firm Patton Boggs.

The SDT found that Crossley had been a “credible” witness, although he had been at times “aggressively defensive” in demeanour.

“However, these displays of some emotion were unsurprising given that, as the tribunal accepted, Mr Crossley and the respondent had had a good and professional relationship until
the events in question and Mr Crossley had, understandably, felt let down by the respondent,” the SDT said.

Adamantopoulos was ordered to pay the SRA £65,000 in costs.

After leaving Hammonds Adamantopoulos joined Holman Fenwick Willan’s Brussels office. He has since left that firm and established his own practice, KA Legal.

Squire Patton Boggs declined to comment. Adamantopoulos could not be reached for comment.

The legal line-up:

For the applicant, the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Fountain Court Chambers’ Edward Levey, instructed by SRA solicitor Suzanne Jackson

For the respondent, Konstantinos Adamantopoulos

Marx Van Ranst Vermeersch & Partners partner Bruno Blanpain