Millions stolen by Bobroffs should be forfeited to State, court rules

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa has dismissed with costs the appeal by Ronald and Darren Bobroff against an order of the North Gauteng High Court granting the permanent forfeiture of more than R103 million.

This came after an application by the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) in August 2019.

In a statement, the NPA on Tuesday said the order was the result of “brilliant” cooperation between the South African and Israeli authorities.

The High Court in 2019 ordered that the money be paid into the Criminal Assets Recovery Account (CARA) of the state.

The order was granted in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA), which provides that property that is used to commit a crime can be forfeited to the state.

“The amount is held in two bank accounts in Israel in the names of Ronald and Darren Bobroff who fled South Africa in March 2016 for Australia. This is after irregularities were uncovered at Ronald Bobroff & Partners Inc (RBP), an attorney’s firm specialising in personal injury claims. The Bobroffs were directors at RBP,” the NPA said.

The NPA said this was based on two issues: firstly, whether or not the high court in Pretoria, which granted the order, had jurisdiction to make a forfeiture order in terms of the POCA in respect of assets situated outside the territory of South Africa which belonged to persons who were currently residents in Australia.

Secondly, whether the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), had established that the money forfeited was “proceeds of unlawful activities” as defined in the POCA.

The appeal was dismissed on both counts but the affected amount was amended.

The case relates to multiple fee agreements entered into by the Bobroffs with their clients. In some instances, said the NPA, up to three agreements were signed with each client.

“The Bobroffs’ modus operandi was to convince clients to enter into these agreements. The clients were unaware that these agreements were in actual fact null and void and that they were used as a tool by the Bobroffs to commit fraud, theft and tax evasion.

“In addition, the Bobroffs invested a substantial amount of RBP’s monies in an investment account. The account was, however, not reflected as a trust creditor account in RBP’s trust accounting records. The money in the investment account provided the Bobroffs with an opportunity to avoid the taxation of the interest earned on the monies invested as well as with an opportunity to launder funds without being detected,” reads the statement.

The NPA said Israeli authorities initially froze the money in the bank accounts after they became suspicious about transactions being conducted on the accounts by the Bobroffs.

The court found that, in all probability, the money in the bank accounts represents the proceeds of unlawful activities, namely, fraud and/or theft and/or money laundering and that the Bobroffs, in all probability, laundered funds of their clients into the accounts in Israel.

Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions in charge of the AFU, Adv Ouma Rabaji-Rasethaba, expressed delight at the latest court outcome.

“The judgement…gives us a shot in the arm in our quest to bring back stolen money that is outside the country. We shall embark on mutual legal assistance (MLA) endeavours to bring back the money. There’s no hiding place for the fruits of criminal acts,” she said.

She further warned that attorneys who defraud the most vulnerable would not get away with their illegal acts.

“They must not think that they can steal and hide abroad,” she said. –