Shortly before they were to hand themselves over to the Hawks, father and son legal team Ronald and Darren Bobroff sold their law firm and fled the country.
Ronald’s wife Elaine, however, was left behind and was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport while attempting to board a flight on Monday night.
Elaine faces charges of fraud and money laundering.
The pair sold Ronald Bobroff & Partners this month to the lawyers who have been representing them in a civil matter. Their website has been taken down and replaced with a page indicating that the law firm “has been acquired” by Taitz & Skikne.
The Bobroffs recently appeared in the high court in Pretoria over an application by the Law Society to have them struck from the roll for overcharging accident victims for claims against the Road Accident Fund.
RAF spokesperson Thandeka Ngwenya said the investigation into the Bobroffs dated back to 2011 when the fund received numerous complaints from claimants.
In February, the Law Society of the Northern Provinces allegedly found evidence that the two lawyers, acting as Bobroff & Partners, had committed a number of unlawful practices, including overcharging accident victims claims against the RAF. In one instance Bobroff & Partners had represented Jennifer and Matthew Graham, who were charged more than the Contingency Fees Act allowed. They complained to the Law Society in 2011 that they had been overcharged. Matthew Graham had suffered brain injuries in a 2006 accident and Bobroff & Partners obtained a R1.9 million settlement and a cost of R300 000 from the RAF.
While the Contingency Fees Act restricted lawyers fees to 30 percent of any award paid out, the Grahams were only paid R1.1m. The Bobroffs allegedly kept the remaining 40 percent of the settlement (R860 000) and the R300 000 for legal fees, including doctors the firm claimed had been used to obtain the settlement.
The Bobroffs had justified their overcharging, arguing that the fee agreements were allowed in terms of common law and that these were sanctioned by the Law Society of the Northern Provinces. They claimed that many other personal injury lawyers also charged fees beyond the limits allowed by the Contingency Fees Act.
These complaints now form part of the criminal investigation by the Hawks.
Ngwenya said while the extent of the Bobroff’s alleged fraud had yet to be determined, the fund had identified suspected fraud cases which amounted to R178m during the 2014/2015 financial year.
Ronald Bobroff, speaking to The Star on Tuesday, said he, his son and daughter-in-law had fled the country because they were tipped off that they would be arrested.
“I just didn’t know they would target my wife. I have no idea what she has been charged with. She is an innocent, harmless housewife who has never done anything wrong. It’s beyond shocking,” he said.
“What my law firm did is the same as what thousands of other law firms around the country are doing,” he added.
He said he believed he was being targeted because of a battle he and Discovery Health had been involved in, after he claimed that Discovery was requiring accident victims to claim from third parties such as the Road Accident Fund.
Discovery Health has repeatedly denied this, saying however, that if a member successfully did so, it would claim back any medical costs recovered.
Bobroff said he and his partner, Stephen Bezuidenhout, had decided to scale down their business because of poor health, and their attorney, Rael Zimerman, had so impressed them that they decided to sell the business to him.
Zimerman confirmed that he had bought the assets of the firm earlier this month, but not the shares of the company. “The assets include the clients’ files and staff of the business. The clients of the firm can choose if they want me to take over their cases,” he said.
Bobroff’s wife Elaine was arrested at the residence of advocate Nazeer Cassim while in the presence of Zimerman.
On Tuesday, the 68-year-old woman applied for bail in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crime Court. She appeared rattled and wide-eyed after a night in police custody.
Prosecutor Adele Carstens told the court that investigators had been forced to arrest Elaine after her husband, son Darren and daughter-in-law Lisa had fled to Australia.
She said the prosecution had come to an agreement with the family that Ronald, Lisa and Darren would hand themselves over, but that a tip-off had alerted investigators to the trio’s flight.
Carstens said Elaine’s bank account had apparently been used for illegal money laundering transactions, one of which exceeded R500 000, making the alleged crime a schedule 5 offence.
She explained in closing arguments that Elaine could be a flight risk because her family had already fled.
But Elaine’s lawyer, Dawie Joubert, argued she had no knowledge of the alleged crimes committed using her account, and that there was little evidence she was personally involved.
He insisted the State’s case was weak, with no proof that the housewife of more than 40 years had been involved in her husband’s financial affairs.
She was granted bail of R50 000.[Source: The Star and the Cape Times]