Convicted killer Mohammad Shafia didn't pay legal bills: lawyer

Lawyer to Tooba Mohammad Yahya sues for unpaid fees

Mohammad Shafia leaves the holding cell at the Frontenac county courthouse in Kingston, Ontario on Dec. 8, 2011. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

Mohammad Shafia leaves the holding cell at the Frontenac county courthouse in Kingston, Ontario on Dec. 8, 2011. (Lars Hagberg/CP)

Mohammad Shafia—the wealthy Afghan immigrant who orchestrated the 2009 mass “honour killing” of four family members in Kingston, Ont.—is now accused of refusing to honour something else: his legal bills.

A lawyer who represented Shafia’s wife at the couple’s sensational criminal trial two years ago has filed a civil lawsuit at the same courthouse, demanding more than $143,000 in unpaid fees and interest. Obtained by Maclean’s, David Crowe’s statement of claim alleges that Shafia “agreed to pay” all legal bills incurred by his spouse and fellow killer, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, but has since reneged on that promise. His last instalment—a cheque for $20,000, nowhere near the full outstanding balance—was delivered in February 2012. “[T]he Plaintiff has repeatedly requested payment from the Defendants,” the lawsuit claims. “Notwithstanding the Plaintiff’s repeated request for payment, the Defendants have failed, refused or neglected to make any payment whatsoever on account of its indebtedness.”

Reached at his office, Crowe declined to discuss his lawsuit. “The information I have is all in the statement of claim,” he said. “I don’t have anything more than that.”

Shafia and Yahya—along with their loyal eldest son, Hamed—were convicted in January 2012 of murdering three of the couple’s “treacherous” teenage daughters (Zainab, Sahar and Geeti) along with Shafia’s first wife in their secretly polygamous clan (Rona Amir Mohammad). The jury heard, in horrific detail, how the girls’ westernized behaviour—secret boyfriends, fashionable clothes, independent thought—had so shamed their father that he believed murder was the only way to restore his tarnished honour. “May the devil s— on their graves!” Shafia famously barked, oblivious to the police wiretap recording his words.

The four victims were discovered on the morning of June 30, 2009, in a submerged Nissan Sentra at the bottom of Kingston Mills, an historic Rideau Canal lockstation. Although their killers tried to disguise the massacre as a tragic wrong turn, police quickly discovered the truth: that one family car, a Lexus SUV, was used to ram the other into the water.

It took a jury just 15 hours of deliberations to declare Shafia, Yahya and Hamed guilty of four counts each of first-degree murder. “It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honourless crime,” Justice Robert Maranger, the presiding judge, said after the verdict was announced on Jan. 29, 2012.“The apparent reasons behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted notion of honour—a notion of honour that is founded on the domination and control of women, a notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.”

Already a millionaire businessman when he moved his family to Canada in 2007, Shafia insists he doesn’t owe a dime to his wife’s lawyer. In a statement of defence filed from his prison cell, Shafia “denies ever making any verbal or written agreement” to cover Yahya’s bills, and that if any payment remains outstanding it should be sought from her, not him. The lawsuit “is without foundation or merit and should be dismissed with costs,” he contends.

Yahya, meanwhile, says in her own statement of defence that Crowe’s lawsuit is “excessive” and “grossly exaggerated.” In fact, she claims her former lawyer was paid more than $327,000 for his services—and that he threatened to stop representing her in the waning days of the trial if she didn’t hand over a “final payment” of $20,000. Crowe was given that $20,000 cheque, Yahya says, and she assumed her account was paid in full.

In his court filings, Crowe insists Shafia was in charge of all money matters and “at no time” did Yahya “ever become involved in any discussions about fees or retainers.” Shafia did pay some bills at the beginning of their arrangement, Crowe says, but by the end of the trial the tab owing had topped $134,000. With interest, that figure is now approaching $144,000, Crowe claims. “At no time did the Plaintiff advise that he was accepting a post-dated cheque in the amount of $20,000 in full settlement of fees,” his filing says.

On paper, at least, Shafia should have no trouble covering any bills, legal or otherwise. Within months of his arrival in Quebec, he purchased a $2-million commercial strip mall in Laval (most of it in cash) and launched a Canadian import company that dealt in clothing, household goods and construction material. He also selected the upscale suburb of Brossard to build a $900,000 mansion for his family, a home that was still under construction when he, Yahya and Hamed were led away in handcuffs. (Shortly after his conviction, Shafia sold the mall for $2.4 million.)

Whether Shafia paid his other legal costs is not clear. His lawyer during the trial, Peter Kemp, has since retired and could not be reached for comment. Hamed’s representative, Patrick McCann, is the only one who remains on the case, working with other counsel on the trio’s still-pending appeal. He did immediately respond to an interview request from Maclean’s.