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Seven Arrested in Investigation of Law Firm Axiom Ince's Collapse

raid on legal offices
80 SFO investigators searched for evidence and arrested seven people in the criminal ivnestigation (SFO)

Published Nov 14, 2023 6:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

In a series of dawn raids, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office joined the widening investigation into the downfall of historic London legal firm Ince & Company, which had been in the shipping trade for more than 150 years. Due to the complexity of the alleged fraud, London’s Metropolitan Police referred the case to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) which is now assisting in the investigation.

Over 80 SFO investigators, accompanied by Metropolitan Police, spread out at locations across the South East of England today searching for potential evidence and bringing individuals in for questioning related to the fraud that includes reports of approximately $82.5 million missing from client accounts. According to the accusations which first surfaced in August 2023, the law firm Axiom DWFM is alleged to have used client monies in the purchase of Ince Group in April 2023 and another law firm, Plexus, in July as well to renovate several properties.

The SFO reports its investigators are examining how the money passed from the firm’s client accounts, which were held at Barclays, to the State Bank of India. The monies were then used they report to fund the purchases made by Axiom DWFM. The SFO confirmed that it has launched a formal criminal investigation and will be working with the police going forward.

“There are a number of significant questions that need to be answered: clients from this law firm are missing many millions of pounds and more than 1,400 of its staff have lost their jobs. The impact on those affected is extremely serious,” said Nick Ephgrave, Director of the Serious Fraud Office. “This morning, we have used our specialist powers to obtain important information that will help us get to the bottom of what happened.”

The missing monies and accusations of fraud surfaced in August and at the time the firm’s managing partner Pragnesh Modhwadia and two other directors were suspended. Private accountants were brought in to review the records and in September, the Solicitors Regulation Authority ordered the firm including all of its divisions to close. Lawyers representing Modhwadia said he had been questioned during today’s raids but he was not arrested. The SFO reported arresting seven individuals during the raids.

Axiom DWFM was a smaller legal firm with reports saying it had just 19 partners and 150 employees when it stepped in at the end of April to save the well-known Ince Group which was going into administration after its own questionable financial deals. The firm, which was founded in 1870, was a fixture in the maritime world and grew to become one of London’s leading practices. The shipping and corporate law practice was expanded and strengthened with the October 2020 launch of Ince Cyprus.

Ince merged into Axiom and the firm was rebranded Axiom Ince in May 2023. The head of Ince’s shipping practice called it an exciting time saying they were looking forward to growing the international business now that the firm was out from under its financial problems. 

The order to close the business encompassed all 14 branches of Axiom Ince including the former Ince office in Briston, England. The firm had over 1,400 people on staff when it ceased operations last month.