SDT strikes off former Ince partner over £3m expenses fraud

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off former Ince & Co partner Nathan Iyer after he admitted charges that he stole £3m from his firm and from clients.

At the SDT hearing today (7 February), Nathan Iyer (also known as Andrew), who was representing himself, was struck off from the solicitors’ roll and ordered to pay £11,671.32 in costs for what the tribunal called “as bad a case of fraud that the tribunal has ever had to deal with.”

Iyer, who asked for the tribunal to be heard in private but was refused, was charged with conducting himself in a manner likely to compromise or impair: his integrity, his duty to act in the best interests of his clients, the good repute of the legal profession, as well as the trust placed in him by the public.

He was also charged with creating invoices for services not performed in order to fraudulently make money from his clients and his firm, as well as with acting dishonestly.

Iyer admitted all the charges levied against him.

Prosecuting, Robin Havard, who is also chairman of Morgan Cole, said: “Despite the fact that Iyer achieved partnership at a highly prestigious firm, the rewards were not sufficient and he set upon a fraudulent scheme to steal money from Ince & Co and its clients in what turned out to be substantial amounts.”

The tribunal heard how Iyer, who is now bankrupt, set up three entities that he held out as commercial organisations but which carried out no activities. In the course of client work, Iyer would raise fictitious invoices in the name of the companies and would then submit the claims to Ince & Co as expenses or disbursements. He would then deceive the firm’s accounts department into paying those amounts to his sham companies.

A spreadsheet prepared by Ince & Co contained some 400 fraudulent invoices made by Iyer, who was found to have taken around £2.8m in total – £2.5m of which was taken from clients, and £283,000 taken from the firm.

Iyer first embarked on his scheme when he was an assistant solicitor, submitting claims for around £55,000, but most frauds took place after he made partner.

The tribunal was told how Ince & Co – which self-reported the irregularities in Iyer’s accounts in the first place – showed a high level of cooperation in the investigation and how difficult it had been for the firm to identify the true extent of the loss because a lot of the claims were “wrapped up in work-in-progress”.

In his closing arguments, Havard invoked the judgment of then Master of the Rolls Thomas Bingham in Bolton v The Law Society (1994), who stated that the profession must be “trusted to the ends of the earth”. He then added Iyer fell “at the other end of that spectrum”.

Following the hearing, Iyer said: “I’ve gone to great lengths to repay the money and cooperate with the investigation, and gone to every length I could conceive to make reparations with ex-clients and the firm, exhausting every act of recompense, resulting in my bankruptcy.

“I’ve apologised in full. That doesn’t repair the damage done, but [the apology] was made with absolute sincerity and humility, and with the deepest regret that I have.”

A spokesperson from Ince & Co said in a statement: “The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s decision today to strike off Andrew Iyer follows his suspension by the firm in July 2010. The matter was
immediately reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the firm has cooperated fully in their investigation. As the matter remains under investigation by the Metropolitan Police the firm has no further comment to make.”

As first reported by Roll on Friday, Nathan Iyer (also known as Andrew) was suspended by Ince & Co in July 2010, over what it called “irregular financial behaviour” (30 July 2010).