Law firm client wants its money back

A client of the US-based law firm K&L Gates yesterday asked a court to order the return of US$4.5 million it said had been entrusted to the firm's Hong Kong office.

The plaintiff, a financial services company called Top Point, said money was held in escrow by K&L Gates and was part of the HK$780 million allegedly stolen by one of its former partners, Navin Kumar Aggarwal.

Aggarwal, who lives in Hong Kong, was charged in August with three counts of theft and three counts of forgery for allegedly stealing HK$780 million from the firm in the first seven months of last year.

The firm, which has about 2,000 lawyers in 37 offices across three continents, had earlier taken action to sue its former partner and secured an asset-freezing injunction against Aggarwal, who is a Hong Kong resident.

Charles Sussex SC, for K&L Gates, yesterday opposed Top Point's claim, saying that mainland entities to whom the missing money had been lent were 'either fabricated or forged by Aggarwal'.

Sussex argued that Aggarwal was the architect behind Top Point's loss, for which K&L Gates could not be blamed.

Although any agreements to lend money had to be signed by another partner in the firm, that partner had trusted Aggarwal sufficiently on other occasions to sign these 'blindfolded', Sussex said.

Linda Chan SC, appearing for Top Point, called the argument a red herring and said her client's money should not be withheld for deals with which it had nothing to do.

Aggarwal was initially accused of stealing about HK$16.6 million from K&L Gates between January 13 and July 21 last year. But senior court prosecutor Cindy Wong Tsz-fong told a hearing in October that the sum had been raised to HK$780 million because more victims had been found.

Wong told that hearing that the alleged victims of Aggarwal's theft included Hong Kong residents both here and overseas.

Acting principal magistrate Gary Lam Kar-yan adjourned the case until Monday.

Aggarwal has allegedly admitted to his employer that he had taken money that the firm held for clients to settle gambling debts.