Judge rebukes Bobroffs and law society
Fugitive lawyer Ronald Bobroff and his son might not find the time to relish Australia's beautiful coastline as their troubles mount back home.
The High Court in Pretoria ordered them to pay the legal costs of one of their former clients this week. And it asked the South African Revenue Service and the national director of public prosecutions to investigate whether they have contravened tax laws.
Bobroff, a former president of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, and his son, Darren, are wanted in South Africa to answer fraud and money-laundering charges related to overcharging Road Accident Fund claimants.
They flourished as personal injury lawyers and Bobroff offered legal advice on radio and TV until allegations emerged that the two men had swindled their clients out of hundreds of millions of rands.
They fled to Australia in March last year, at the height of a two-year Hawks investigation. Bobroff's wife, Elaine, was arrested a few months later. She faces the same charges as her husband and son, though these were provisionally withdrawn last year.
Bobroff and his son were struck off the roll of attorneys in December.
The law society incurred Judge Natvarlal Ranchod's wrath this week for its tardiness in acting against its former president.
Ranchod ordered the regulatory body to pay 25% of one of Jennifer and Matthew Graham's legal bills, and the erstwhile lawyers are to pay the rest. Matthew is one of Bobroff's victims.
On Thursday, Ranchod delivered the legal costs order for litigation brought by the Grahams against the Bobroffs and the law society, saying the body had "lamentably" entertained "the Bobroffs' patently clear stalling tactics".
Matthew sustained serious injuries in a car crash in 2006 and the Bobroffs' law firm represented him on a contingency fee basis when he lodged a R2-million claim with Road Accident Fund. He was awarded R1.98-million and the law firm deducted 40% of the payout.
The Grahams reported the law firm to the law society for overreaching. Dissatisfied with the body's progress, they hauled it before court in 2012 to compel it to do its work, or to have the disciplinary inquiry into the Bobroffs placed under the court's supervision.Protracted litigation ensued, punctuated by a counterapplication by the Bobroffs.
"The nature of the multiple complaints against the firm and the Bobroffs, and the evidence of the firm-wide, pervasive misconduct, required of the law society a composite and expeditious response," said Ranchod.
"The law society was found wanting in this regard. Given the extent to which the law society accommodated the Bobroffs, members of the public can be forgiven for thinking that it is there to 'protect its own', more especially given the fact that Mr Ronald Bobroff was the past president of the law society."
The Grahams' lawyer, George van Niekerk, said: "The next step is to make sure that Ronald and Darren Bobroff face the full wrath of the law. They should not be allowed to get away with their ill-gotten gains."
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the investigation was receiving the "necessary attention", but said he "cannot reveal all the processes at this stage".
NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said the extradition process could begin only when the police investigation was complete. He said the judgment would be referred to prosecutors in the specialised commercial crimes unit to investigate probable tax contraventions flagged by the court.
Lawyer John Cameron, representing the Bobroffs, said: "As I reliably have it, all the tax issues between the Bobroffs and SARS have been resolved. Anything that is owed to SARS has been paid to SARS."
He said his clients had lodged an application for leave to appeal against the court's decision to strike them off the roll of attorneys.
SARS spokesman Sandile Memela said the revenue service did not comment on individual tax issues.