Estina Dairy lawyer struck off the roll for ‘theft’

Bloemfontein-based legal eagle Lebohang Mokhele who represented the beneficiaries of the Guptas-linked Estina Dairy farm matter in Free State several years has been struck off the roll of legal practitioners.

This was after the Legal Practice Council (LPC) brought an application to the Bloemfontein High Court after receiving complaints of impropriety from Mokhele’s clients.

The lawyer, among other things, was found to have embezzled R1-million. His disbarment comes after a lengthy legal battle between Mokhele and the LPC regarding the mishandling of trust funds.

The lawyer was described as a legal practitioner who was not detailed in handling his legal affairs. “The respondent was handling the trust account the same way a street hawker deals with his customers, with no paper trail.

All we know is the funds were transferred into his business account, as early as the day after it was deposited into his trust account, with no work done, hence the full refunds,” said the LPC.

The LPC’s investigation committee uncovered Mokhele was appointed an executor in the deceased estate of Mathabo Tau’s husband in April 2021.

Mokhele opened a bank account at the Standard Bank where it was discovered that more than R1-million had disappeared from the lawyer’s trust account.

The LPC applied for his disbarment as an advocate at all the country’s courts and beyond.

According to the LPC, MacDonald Yawa and Tau lodged complaints with the LPC against Mokhele’s conduct when he was dealing with their legal matters.

“Yawa’s complaint was initially a complaint against the way the respondent was dealing with the instructions to file a petition in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) against a decision of this court not to grant leave to appeal in a deceased estate and customary marriage dispute.

“Events took a different turn when the LPC’s investigation committee was involved and uncovered that the respondent has made some withdrawals from the money deposited into his trust account, without having done any work in line with the mandate,” reads the court document.

 On Tau’s complaint based on court documents filed by the LPC, the lawyer’s woes are related to the misappropriation of funds deposited in an interest-bearing trust account of the deceased estate of her late husband, Lehlohonolo Tau, where the widow is the heir to the deceased estate.

The respondent’s failure to account for the money he received on behalf of the estate was an issue, said the court paper.

“The funds in the trust account were transferred without the consent of the Master of the High Court of the Free State or Mrs Tau,” argued the LPC in court.

“In the Yawa complaint lodged with the LPC on 30 August 2021, the complainant instructed the respondent in December 2020 to file a petition to the Supreme Court of Appeal.”

On February 27, 2021, a transfer of R69 500 was made from the trust account with reference “Fees February 15H00” to the beneficiary in a matter unrelated to Mr Yawa’s matter, bringing the balance to R2 189.91, resulting in a trust deficit.

The applicant addressed several correspondences to the respondent, which he failed to respond to,” read the papers.

“The LPC was forced to bring an application in relation to Mr Yawa and two other matters, for an order to suspend the respondent from practice as a precautionary measure pending the disciplinary hearing.”

The disciplinary hearing against Mokhele by the LPC commenced on October 25, 2022, and concluded on February 21, 2023.

Mokhele was charged with breach of the provision of the code of conduct for all practitioners. He failed to file a petition for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, after being instructed to do so.

 What made matters worse for Mokhele, was a complaint lodged by Tau that the lawyer had failed to account to her as to how funds deposited into her late husband’s deceased estate trust account were dealt with.

The LPC also stated that Mokhele’s conduct was more than brazen. “Surely, he intended embezzling the said funds to the detriment of the orphaned children and their mother.”

The Bloemfontein High Court judge made the order to have Mokhele struck off the legal practitioner’s of the High Court of South Africa.

The judge also directed him to surrender his certificate of admission and enrolment as a legal practitioner within 10 court days.

On Thursday, Mokhele told Sunday World he would appeal.

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