Monday, October 18, 2021

How to tell if your lawyer is a fraud ÔÇô Law Society

Using himself as a bad-apple example in order to stay on the right side of the law, Tebogo Moipolai describes a hypothetical scenario with an otherwise real-life equivalence.

“If Moipolai is your lawyer and you have never seen him sign a document but is always passing on documents to another lawyer to sign, then something is seriously wrong. If Moipolai is your lawyer and is always delegating somebody else to represent clients in court, something is obviously wrong,” says Moipolai who is the Executive Secretary of the Law Society of Botswana (LSB).

The topicality of genuine and fake lawyers issues from a case before a Gaborone magistrate court in which Limukani Moyo, a Zimbabwean national (a former soldier) is alleged to have conned members of the public into believing that he is a lawyer. Until his arrest three months ago, Moyo is alleged to have operated a fraudulent legal practice over five years.

The Law Society exists to regulate the legal profession but Moipolai feels that members of the public can also be helpful in that regard. He says that the public should help the Society weed out fraudsters who infiltrate the profession and contrive a façade of legitimacy.

“The problem is that people like taking short cuts. If they know of a lawyer who charges low fees, they will flock to him and never consider why his fees are low. It is important that members of the public should also exercise diligence,” Moipolai says.

At the beginning of each year, LSB issues a list of all Botswana lawyers who have complied with all the requirements of the Legal Practitioners Act and as such, are in good standing. Moipolai says that if someone suspects that the lawyer s/he has engaged is practicing fraudulently, such person should report to the Law Society which should be able to establish the facts by merely consulting its annual list. He adds that unless tipped off about such fraud, the Society is hamstrung in terms of smoking culprits.

Such views notwithstanding, Moipolai also acknowledges that the Society’s own members complicate matters by conniving with people whom the Society has not authorized to practice law. When such connivance happens, the main service that the latter offer would be consulting clients behind the safety of a closed door at a law firm’s offices.

Moipolai proceeds to make a fundamental point about fraud in general ÔÇô that just about any profession can be infiltrated by fraudsters.

“Even if you regulate the medical profession, someone can still successfully pass himself off as a doctor,” he says.

Moipolai is right about that particular scenario. At the turn of the century, the media smoked out an Indian man who had been working at Princess Marina Referral Hospital in Gaborone as a hospital. Of all places he should never have been anywhere near, this man worked in the maternity ward. Once when delivering a baby through Caesarian section, he mistakenly cut the baby’s head with a scalpel. The man lost his job after he was exposed but perhaps having become too attached to this part of the world, resurfaced in Mafikeng, the capital city of South Africa’s North West province. Hopefully, Princess Marina no longer has formally employed fake doctors but the fakery persists. In the not-too-distant past, easy access into and exit out of the hospital prompted thieves to throw on white coats and prowl the wards when real doctors would be away. In 2013, one of these thieves made news when he was apprehended in the maternity ward after fatefully mixing business with pleasure. Laying his eyes on a half-naked pregnant woman and obviously liking what he saw, the thief lustfully exclaimed: “Wwwow!” Realising he was an impostor, the women in the ward closed all the doors and fell upon him.

Fraudsters have also been able to do business in countries with highly advanced systems. The first proof is of the Princess Marina “doctor” resurfacing in Mafikeng. The second, still in South Africa and more relevant to the profession under discussion, is of an East London woman who rose to prominence during the Oscar Pistorius trial. Brenda Wardle, as she is called, had the British Broadcasting Corporation and the South African Broadcasting Corporation believe that she was a lawyer and on TV would identify her as a legal analyst. She later published a book titled “To Kill a Fragile Rose: The State’s Case Against Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius.” Her fraud goes back to 2009 when she tricked a convicted murderer into believing that he could represent him. Over the next four years, she collected P368 000 from the man’s family but never delivered on her promise. Careful not to reveal too much, Wardle online profile says that she is “a Bachelor & Master of Laws Graduate currently registered towards a Doctor of Laws Degree” and is the “Chief Operations Officer at the Wardle College of Law.” No mention there about what universities she studied at.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper