A Richmond real estate and immigration lawyer, who denied China is a human rights offender, is banned from practising law for a year.
Hong Guo is suspended beginning Dec. 1 after an Oct. 28-released decision from a Law Society of B.C. disciplinary tribunal.
Almost a year ago, a tribunal found Guo had committed professional misconduct related to the 2016 theft of $7.5 million of client trust funds by her bookkeeper, Zixin “Jeff” Li.
Guo, 54, originally came to Canada in 1993 and studied law at the University of Windsor. She was called to the Saskatchewan bar in 2000 and B.C. bar in 2009. She also worked in the Chinese Communist government’s powerful State Council.
The three-member disciplinary panel could have disbarred Guo, but chose the lesser penalty due to mitigating circumstances.
“We understand that the respondent currently practises under supervision and does not currently operate a trust account,” said the decision from Jennifer Chow, Ralston Alexander and John Lane. “The respondent’s misconduct in creating the conditions that led to the massive employee theft is serious and warrants a suspension. However, since the respondent did contribute family funds, took steps to restore the stolen trust funds and to prevent pending client transactions from failing, a lengthy suspension is in our view not warranted.”
Guo facilitated bookkeeper Li’s theft by failing to supervise him and failing to ensure strict compliance with Law Society accounting rules. She left Li with blank, previously signed trust cheques, while she went on vacation for two weeks in March 2016. Some of those cheques were used in the theft. Li allegedly took the millions from 100 clients, laundered the cash at a casino and fled to China.
When Guo discovered the theft on April 1, 2016, she made reports to the Law Society and RCMP.
Over several months, she deposited more than $2.6 million of family money into her trust account. Until an insurer covered the missing $4 million, the clients and third parties were unsecured creditors who didn’t know whether they would see any of their money for at least 18 months.
With the exception of those who filed lawsuits against Guo, most, if not all, clients affected were eventually made whole, the tribunal said.
Guo testified that she suffered considerable stress and financial impact, but “we agree with the Law Society that the effect of the theft does not excuse the respondent’s misconduct.”
The decision also mentioned seven occasions between 2013 and 2017 in which the Law Society intervened in Guo’s practice.
“The Law Society emphasizes that the respondent ‘borrowed’ trust funds from her clients to cover her losses, disregarded her undertaking to the Law Society and disregarded a Bencher Order put in place to protect the public. The Law Society also points out that some of the proven misconduct occurred prior to the bookkeeper’s theft.”
The tribunal ordered Guo pay the Law Society $47,329.44 in costs at a rate of $1,000 per month until the full amount is paid. The Law Society had sought more than $70,000.
Guo finished a distant fourth in the Richmond mayoral election in 2018, shortly after she was originally cited for misconduct.
In an interview with theBreaker.news after an all-candidates meeting, Guo denied the existence of China’s well-documented human rights abuses, including the mass-detention of Uyghur Muslims and arbitrary jailing of journalists.
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