Former deputy justice minister accused of stealing over $740,000 from law clients
Yassin Choukri accused of misappropriating money from 10 clients between 2010 and 2016
Former Deputy Minister of Justice Yassin Choukri "abandoned his clients" and Fredericton law practice last September — two days after bouncing a pair of cheques to people he was representing in a mortgage foreclosure, the Law Society of New Brunswick disclosed Friday.
In a six-page "notice of complaint," detailing accusations of theft or "misappropriation" from 10 clients between 2010 and 2016, the society formerly charged Choukri with a number of professional offences involving more than $740,000 in client money.
The society said Choukri, once one the most senior legal officials in the New Brunswick government, is required to respond to the accusations against him within 20 days.
"If Yassin Choukri, Q.C. fails to file a reply Yassin Choukri Q.C. shall be deemed to admit all the charges," reads the notice.
First transgression in 2010
According to the document, Choukri's first transgression occurred in August 2010 when he was paid a $1,000 retainer by a man the society refers to only as BB, to assist him with a domestic contract.
No work was done and the money is missing, according to the complaint.
"The $1,000.00 retainer is no longer in Yassin Choukri, Q.C.'s trust account and cannot be accounted for," claims the document.
That was a lone incident until July 2014, when the society said Choukri failed to forward $11,500 in court costs to a company he represented that had been successful in an undisclosed action.
- 'Apparent dishonesty' of N.B. lawyer to cost each lawyer up to $400
- Ex-deputy justice minister 'missing,' suspended by law society
Six months later more serious trouble began.
In January 2015 the society said Choukri received a $250,000 payment for a client, which it calls Company X, as settlement for a 14 year old Bathurst fire in which the building had been a total loss.
"Company X never received any of the settlement funds," read the complaint.
"Yassin Choukri, Q.C. therefore misappropriated $250,000 from his client."
Several thefts in 2016
Following that incident nothing happened for over a year until the spring and summer of 2016, when the law society said Choukri stole from six clients, one after the other.
On May 19, according to the complaint Choukri was paid $150,000 by an insurance company to settle a car accident claim for a woman he represented.
She was never paid.
On May 31, Choukri then received the second of two cheques to settle a $30,000 slip-and-fall claim for another client.
He also was never paid.
One month later, on June 29, a company that finances lawsuits — Company W according to the complaint — sent Choukri $200,000 to help pay expenses for a group of his clients engaged in ongoing litigation.
Yassin Choukri , Q.C. used the monies ... to cover trust account overdrafts and none of the loan monies were used to benefit his clients.- New Brunswick Law Society
The society said Choukri used the money to settle some of his own mounting financial problems instead.
"Yassin Choukri, Q.C. used the monies ... to cover trust account overdrafts and none of the loan monies were used to benefit his clients. Yassin Choukri, Q.C. therefore misled Company W and he misappropriated $200,000.00," the charge said.
Fled province last year
The law society said there were two final thefts in September 2016 before Choukri fled the province.
On Sept. 8, Choukri received a cheque for $45,000 for a woman to settle her four-year-old car accident claim but then forwarded her no money.
Finally, on Sept. 9, Choukri received $50,295.88 to settle a mortgage default on a Fredericton building.
The money was meant for three clients and although Choukri wrote two cheques to pay the group on Sept. 27 — one for $5,000 and one for $44,440.38 — both bounced.
The law society said Choukri disappeared two days later.
"On or about September 29, 2016, Yassin Choukri, Q.C. abandoned his clients and his practice as he left New Brunswick without advising his law associates, his clients or his family of his departure," said the document.
In total, the accusations list $742,795.88 in payments that are now missing, although Choukri would have been entitled to a small amount of that as his fee for working on the various cases.
Mr. Stephenson also informed me that Yassin Choukri regularly gambles and that Yassin Choukri informed him that he receives complimentary rooms and meals at Casino Moncton.- Shirley MacLean affidavit, law society official
The complaint mentions nothing about accusations Choukri had a gambling problem, but last year in an affidavit filed in court during the fallout from Choukri's abandonment of his practice, law society official Shirley MacLean said William Stephenson, who practised law in the same firm as Choukri, told her that was an issue.
"Mr. Stephenson also informed me that Yassin Choukri regularly gambles and that Yassin Choukri informed him that he receives complimentary rooms and meals at Casino Moncton," the affidavit said.
Deputy minister of justice
Choukri was once a law partner of former premier Bernard Lord and served as the chief of staff in Lord's office before being appointed deputy minister of justice in 2003.
Choukri left the government position after Lord's Progressive Conservatives lost the 2006 election, but he retained ties with the party for some time.
In 2010, the Progressive Conservative government of David Alward appointed Choukri as the public intervener for hearings before the Energy and Utilities Board.
Choukri was suspended from the law society in January pending resolution of the complaints against him.
But on Friday, the law society disclosed he still managed to withdraw $21,658 from his trust account "commencing on February 28," weeks after the suspension took effect.
In May, the law society announced that every practising lawyer in New Brunswick may have to pay up to $400 each to reimburse Choukri's clients.