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SRA brings successful prosecution against Registered European Lawyers

Three Italian lawyers have been found to have committed a host of accounting irregularities while acting for clients in overseas property deals.

The prosecution was brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as the trio had seriously breached the professional code of conduct and Accounts Rules. The case was heard by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over five days in January, and the tribunal delivered its sanctions on Friday 1 February.

Gabriele Michael Giambrone, Anna Cinzia D’Arpa and Allessandra Bellanca of firm Giambrone Law LLP, based in Essex Street, London faced a number of allegations during the hearing. The Tribunal considered the 14 allegations that the SRA pursued against each of the three and found, in respect of Gabriele Michael Giambrone, 12 proven.

The Tribunal found 8 proven against both Anna Cinzia D’Arpa and Allessandra Bellanca. Giambrone’s name was ordered to be withdrawn from the SRA’s Register of European Lawyers, while D'Arpa and Bellanca were fined £2,000 each. Giambrone was ordered to pay costs of £70,000.

The Tribunal found Giambrone to be primarily responsible for the misconduct, which arose from this bulk conveyancing practice acting on behalf of clients purchasing properties abroad, primarily in Italy, from 2006 onwards. The breaches were discovered following SRA investigations, with the Tribunal describing the firm's accounts as a “shambles”.

The SRA discovered client files had been sent out of the country to Italy without obtaining informed consent from clients beforehand. Giambrone received clients’ deposit monies associated with their purchase of foreign, off-plan properties. He then released these deposits to developers in Italy when there were no bank guarantees in place to protect client funds and no contracts had been exchanged, despite prior express promises to clients to that effect.

Crucially it was determined by the Tribunal, in respect of evidence relied upon by Mr Giambrone that an employee of his firm had obtained verbal consent from clients permitting the release of deposit monies, that no such conversations had taken place and no prior consent from clients had been obtained before their deposit monies had been sent to developers abroad. The Tribunal described all of this as serious and found Giambrone’s explanation in response to these allegations to be unsatisfactory and said that he had not been frank, offering a self-serving account to the Tribunal.

David Middleton, SRA Executive Director, said: "We welcome the decision of the SDT in what was a heavily contested case. This case sends a message that clients’ interests must be protected at all times.”  

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