A solicitor stole more than HK$1.6 million from clients after running into money problems, a court heard yesterday. Francis Ho Kai-wa, 43, admitted that between March 2001 and April 2002 he instructed his law firm to issue cheques from clients' accounts into an account set up on his behalf by his brother-in-law. The outstanding amount of HK$500,000 was paid back by cheque to one client yesterday, Ho's lawyer, Christopher Grounds, said. In three other cases, Ho repaid HK$1,149,000 by transferring funds from one client's account to another before his firm went bankrupt. The clients suffered no financial loss, the court heard. Ho, appearing before Deputy Judge Timothy Casewell in the District Court, pleaded guilty to five counts of theft but denied three more charges of theft, which were left on the court file. Clients regularly entrusted money to Ho's now-bankrupt conveyancing law firm, Francis K.W. Ho & Co, for specific purposes. The money was kept in each individual client's account and, under the Solicitors' Accounts Rules, was only to be used for the benefit of that client. Ho had been a solicitor since 1988. He ran his firm with 40 staff until the economic downturn, escalating personal and business debts and a series of family problems brought severe financial strains, Mr Ground said. Ho filed for bankruptcy in July 2002. Deputy Judge Casewell adjourned the case for two weeks to await background reports on Ho. He refused the defence's application for bail despite pleas from Mr Grounds to release his client so he could spend the Mid-Autumn Festival with his eight-year-old son. Ho was arrested in July 2004 and charged in August last year. He had been on bail since then.