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Shamed Antrim lawyer facing jail after stealing nearly £1m from clients' accounts

 

Graham Keys
Graham Keys

By Stephen Gordon

A top lawyer and racehorse owner is facing jail after confessing to stealing nearly £1m from clients' accounts.

Suspended solicitor Graham Keys has also admitted defrauding nearly £300,000 over a nine-year period from a leading Belfast law firm where he was formerly a partner.

The 64-year-old Co Antrim man pleaded guilty to 21 charges at Belfast Crown Court on Tuesday. The shamed former legal high-flyer was released on continuing bail ahead of his sentencing hearing in January.

Keys was a respected partner in the Belfast city centre firm Diamond Heron Solicitors where he specialised in secured lending and commercial litigation.

But in 2015 he was dramatically expelled by Diamond Heron and his practising certificate was suspended by the Law Society after police launched an investigation into his dealings.

A partner on behalf of Diamond Heron said at the time: "We can confirm that following an internal investigation into suspected misappropriation of client monies, Mr Graham Keys has been expelled and is no longer a partner in Diamond Heron.

"The partners were advised by the PSNI of suspicious financial activity by Mr Keys."

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The partner also emphasised: "We would like to stress that no client has suffered or will suffer any loss. All client monies are fully safeguarded and have been restored by the continuing partners."

Keys' spectacular fall from grace was confirmed at the Crown Court last week where he admitted stealing £856,714 from an Ulster Bank account in the name of Diamond Heron between January 2006 and July 2015, with the money belonging to clients of the law firm.

Keys, from Lurgan Road, Glenavy, also admitted stealing almost £84,000 from an Ulster Bank account in the name of Diamond Heron between February 2006 and July 2015, again with the money belonging to clients of the firm.

In addition to stealing £940,000 he also admitted 10 charges of fraud by abuse of trust involving sums totalling £280,000.

He sent a series of letters and cheques to banks and other organisations with the intention of causing gain for himself and a loss to Diamond Heron whose interests he was expected to safeguard.

The sums involved ranged from £1,000 to £101,000 and the frauds took place between January 2006 and July 2015.

Keys was also well-known in racing circles across Ireland as a breeder and owner of horses such as Moral High Ground, I'll Be Your Clown and Cherish The Pear.

His thieving came to light when police alerted Diamond Heron of suspicious financial activity by Keys.

In court he also admitted nine charges of false accounting which involved destroying, defacing, concealing or falsifying cheque requisition forms or ledger entries to make a gain for himself.

The case against the disgraced solicitor was adjourned until January 17 pending pre-sentence reports.

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