Fugitive lawyers live it up in Australia
Bobroff, son wanted on suspicion of fleecing RAF victims
A wealthy lawyer and his son who fled South Africa after allegedly fleecing Road Accident Fund victims out of millions of rands are living a life of luxury in Australia.
Despite international arrest warrants issued for them, Ronald Bobroff and his son, Darren, live in upmarket homes in the Sydney suburb of St Ives. They have avoided arrest and extradition for the past two years while the Hawks complete their investigation.
Darren, who now runs a successful property business in Sydney's upmarket Northern Beaches and North Shore suburbs, lives in a house estimated to cost R25-million. Ronald has begun his comeback into the legal fraternity after being struck from the roll in South Africa.
The Bobroffs fled to Australia in March 2016, just days before they were due to hand themselves over to the Hawks to be arrested. Shortly afterwards, Interpol issued Red Notices for their arrest.
Ronald's wife, Elaine, was arrested soon thereafter and charged with fraud and money laundering, but the charges were dropped.
Claimants, many of whom suffered life-changing injuries in car crashes, lodged a litany of complaints against the Bobroffs, alleging that they charged a contingency fee of 40% of RAF payouts, exceeding the cap of 25%.
Some claims have been settled, but the Bobroffs still allegedly owe at least R12-million to 10 of their former clients. If extradited, they will face multiple fraud charges.
Ronald has applied to join the Law Society of New South Wales. The family's Facebook pages show an idyllic life with photographs of yachts anchored in Sydney harbour, an azure ocean and white beaches, and the two men with family in a park.
In stark contrast, the people they allegedly stole millions of rands from through massively inflated billing are struggling."All they did was enrich themselves off our pain and suffering," said Lenasia resident Sandy Chetty, whose husband, Mark, died in 2014 after being left paralysed in a 2010 car crash.
The Sunday Times has learnt the Bobroffs are offering their former clients money if they sign agreements not to pursue criminal or civil charges against them.
Yasmin Motara, who lost her job after her accident in 2009, said that in March the Bobroffs convinced her to sign an agreement that she would not pursue legal action against them if she received the rest of her money.
"I got a R6.5-million payout from the RAF in 2015. I discovered the Bobroffs should only have received R400,000 for their legal fees, but they took R1.2-million.
"Just after I launched my legal challenge they fled to Australia. It took a year to get an additional R180,000 out of them, which they only agreed to pay if I didn't pursue them legally any further. I signed it because I was financially desperate."
The Bobroffs have had their Israeli bank accounts, which contain over R100-million, frozen. On Monday they succeeded in having a court application by the NPA to have the money forfeited to the state postponed. The case will now be heard on August 13.
Despite their luxurious lifestyle, the Bobroffs' lawyer, John Cameron, this week described them as living in a "ghetto" and said they had been treated like "pariahs" in their community.
"They are looked down on. Their community WhatsApp group carries whispers of the vindictive lies about them.
"The only benefit that they have there is that they won't be murdered and raped as they would be in South Africa's prisons."
In June, Australian lawyer Peter Cashman wrote a glowing testimonial for Bobroff, who has applied to join the Law Society of New South Wales, describing him as a "person of integrity".
He wrote that Bobroff, "who led the struggle in opposing the South African government's efforts to dramatically reduce the compensation recoverable by road accident victims", would prove to be a valuable member of the solicitors' profession in New South Wales.
But Cashman told the Sunday Times this week that his only association with Bobroff was from professional contact he had with him on a visit to South Africa."Bobroff made contact with me recently in Sydney and asked me to provide a reference based on that connection. I did so. I have no detailed knowledge of the matters which gave rise to his removal from legal practice in South Africa."
Imelda Craglietto, the society's registry compliance officer, said it was unable to comment on individual applications, and that Bobroff did not currently hold a practising certificate in New South Wales.
"The society is aware of an international arrest warrant for Bobroff and of a criminal investigation," she said.
She said the laws that governed legal practice in New South Wales stated the society "must not grant or renew an Australian practising certificate if it considered the applicant is not a fit and proper person to hold the certificate".
On the state's forfeiture application in South Africa, Cameron said: "For a successful forfeiture application the state must prove the money in bank accounts is the proceeds of crime. Why would the Bobroffs be so stupid as to transfer that money into accounts in their own names?
"The money the state says is the proceeds of crime is nowhere near R100-million. They have over the years only made about R68-million, but that was not through criminal actions. That was through their various legal work, which was beyond the RAF cases. The funds were paid from the RAF to their trust fund, then into their business account and then to the clients. How do you prove which is stolen money and which isn't?"
Darren told the Sunday Times in a phone interview that living abroad was not easy. "Coming here at my age and trying to make a life, with a traumatised family, is hard. Even now we still receive e-mails threatening our lives."But at least it's a good country, safe and civilised, and things work with a fair justice system, which South Africa does not have."
He labelled the Interpol warrants mere "notices" issued on fabricated information.
Ronald - a former president of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces - told the Sunday Times that there was no evidence that money was missing from their trust fund. "We defended our clients with diligence. We gave our lives to the public interest. We have never done a client in by a cent," he said.
He said they fled because of threats to murder them.
"We agonised over it. I didn't want to but had to think of my family. We fled just with the clothes on our backs. We long to come home, but can't until it's safe to do so."
He declined to comment on his application to the law society.
Their complaints of hardship are no comfort to Chetty, who said her husband's death had been too much to bear.
"Since his accident we have fought the Bobroffs. They promised to help us, but all they did was enrich themselves off our pain and suffering."
She said initially the Bobroffs had been good, but their attitude changed as the court case against the RAF approached.
"Two days before the court case they changed our contract, raising their costs. On the court day they forced us to sign more documents. They wouldn't explain what they were.
"They dragged everything out, raising the costs. We were told by the RAF we would get R8-million, but when we got to court the Bobroffs told us they had signed the settlement for R4.2-million."
She said when they received their money they only got R3-million.
"We couldn't understand. It took years of further legal challenges to get the remaining R700,000 [from the Bobroffs], which we were rightfully due."
Within months of winning their case against the Bobroffs, her husband died."It's not like we are millionaires. My husband's medical bills were huge. Most of the money went to paying off that debt. I took my children out of college because it was too expensive.
"We trusted the Bobroffs with our lives and they robbed us. They robbed a dying man."
Lawyer Anthony Millar said he had assisted many of the Bobroffs' clients and there were still 10 left who were collectively owed in the region of R12-million. "The difficulty with fighting these cases is that the Bobroffs are using the allegedly misappropriated money to fight us to a standstill," he said.
"Another problem is that there is a time prescript against claims against lawyers by their clients. The true extent of how much is owed may never be known because many of the claims have had to fall away."
NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku confirmed the docket had been returned to the Hawks because the investigation was incomplete."Because the investigation is incomplete one cannot institute extradition proceedings. In extradition proceedings, the charges the accused face must be disclosed to the requested state with guarantees the accused will not face any additional charges.
"The prosecutor has said there are outstanding documents which are needed, hence the indictment cannot be concluded."
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that neither the investigation nor the forensic audit had been completed. He was unable to say when they would be. The amounts allegedly taken would be known once the audit was completed, he said.
Cameron said there was nothing malicious about the agreement signed with Motara and others.
"It was commercial decision taken by the Bobroffs to stop the barrage of litigation which was bordering on harassment.
"It was done to protect the Bobroffs' former clients who had lost their attempts to sequestrate my clients. The former clients would have lost any further legal actions and that would have cost them financially."