Attorney struck off roll for 'scandalous swindle' of accident victims
The Western Cape High Court has struck the name of Brian Albertus Baumann, an attorney who defrauded clients of millions in Road Accident Fund (RAF) payouts, from the roll of attorneys.
Baumann, 53, was sentenced by the specialised commercial crimes court in Bellville in December last year to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of 16 counts of fraud.
Between January 2018 and December 2019, Baumann – practising as an attorney in Bellville under the name BA Baumann Attorneys – submitted various claims on behalf of victims against the RAF.
He was arrested in February last year after an investigation by the Hawks uncovered that he helped himself to RAF payments that were due to his clients.
He entered into a plea and sentencing agreement and was found guilty on multiple charges of fraud.
The Legal Practice Council (LPC) brought an application for the name of Baumann to be struck off the roll of attorneys on the basis that he was no longer a fit and proper person to practise.
The application was not opposed.
The high court said the substance of the charge against Baumann was that he settled matters for clients who had lodged claims for compensation with the RAF in an amount totalling R24m. However, he misled his clients as to the extent of their respective entitlements, telling them that there were only entitled to an aggregate of R6.6m.
“For an officer of the court to become embroiled in such a swindle is scandalous to say the least,” judge Patrick Gamble said in a judgment passed on Monday.
What aggravates the situation is that the clients were poor people who had personally suffered injuries and desperately needed the money.Judge Patrick Gamble
“But what aggravates the situation is the fact that the clients were poor people who had personally suffered injuries [or were dependents of injured people] and desperately needed the money paid out to them by the RAF to survive.”
He said the individual amounts were staggering.
“For example, one of the complainants to the [LPC] ... was settled in the amount of R2.468m but only R500,000 was paid out by [Baumann], who pocketed R1.968m.”
Gamble said through his conduct, Baumann had brought the legal profession into disrepute and there is no doubt that he was no longer a fit and proper person to practise in a profession in which honesty and integrity were the bedrock.
“His name will therefore be removed from the roll.”
Gamble ordered that Baumann surrender and deliver to the registrar of the court his certificate of enrolment within one month of the order.
The court also ordered the LPC to inform in writing the victims of Baumann's fraud of their right to lodge claims with the Fidelity Fund in respect of the losses they suffered.