Anni Dewani killer’s lawyer suspended over fees row, faces being struck from roll
THE attorney who defended the gunman who shot dead Swedish honeymooner Anni Dewani has been suspended from practising while the Cape Law Society takes steps to have him permanently barred from the profession.
Three years ago the eyes of the world were on Matthews Dayimane as he defended Xolile Mngeni.
Today he has to defend himself against allegations he spent funds meant for one of his clients, which had been paid into his trust account.
In a judgment last month, the Western Cape High Court gave the Law Society until the end of January next year to institute proceedings against Dayimane to have him struck from the roll of attorneys.
In court papers it emerged that Dayimane had lodged a Road Accident Fund ( RAF) claim on behalf of a client who was involved in an accident in 2005.
In settlement of the claim, the RAF paid about R269 000 into Dayimane’s trust account in May 2009.
Four years later, when the client started making inquiries, she discovered the claim had been settled and an amount paid into Dayimane’s trust account.
In September 2013 the matter was reported to the Cape Law Society (CLS), which then began an investigation.
It emerged Dayimane had allegedly used the money over the years, rather than retaining it in his trust account on behalf of his client.
Nolita Kose, who serves as a member of the CLS council, said in an affidavit Dayimane later admitted to society officials he had suffered financial difficulties at the time and he transferred the money to his business account to cover his expenses.
However, he claimed he intended to repay the amount once his financial situation had improved.
The following month Dayimane paid the client R200 000, keeping the balance as his fee.
But his client’s new attor- ney questioned why Dayimane made no reference to interest that should have accrued from the time the RAF payment was made. He also wanted to know whether the RAF settlement included legal costs.
In September last year the CLS found Dayimane guilty of contravening Law Society rules.
Kose said Dayimane’s conduct was dishonourable and unworthy, and showed that he was not a fit and proper person to practise as an attorney.
“(The Law Society) submits that, apart from an order preventing (Dayimane) from practising, it is necessary for a curator to be appointed to his trust accounts and practice in order that an investigation may be conducted to establish whether any other members of the public have had their money misappropriated.”
Audit reports have allegedly revealed how the balance in Dayimane’s trust account diminished from 2009, when the RAF payment was made, to last year.
During this time Dayimane represented Mngeni in the Western Cape High Court. Mngeni was charged and later convicted of Dewani’s murder.
Dayimane told the media at the time that he represented Mngeni on a partly pro bono basis, and that the rest was privately funded.
The Law Society approached the High Court earlier this year to interdict Dayimane from practising, pending an application to have his name removed from the roll of attorneys.
Judge Ashley Binns-Ward said it appeared the attorney had “made himself guilty of misconduct which would lead to his removal from the roll, and is practising in circumstances where the public at large is at risk of becoming the victim of similar misconduct”.
The findings were provisional, and did not pre-empt the result of the main proceedings.
He granted the interdict, but warned that it was “unreasonable and unacceptable” for Dayimane’s suspension to be unduly prolonged.