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Law Society fails to act on Bobroff’s ‘suspicious transaction’

Darren Bobroff deposited cheque in client’s name into his personal bank account.

Moneyweb can reveal that the Law Society of the Northern Provinces (LSNP) has procrastinated for over two years on an enquiry into exactly how a Ronald Bobroff and Partners (RBP) cheque for R115 600 in favour of its road accident client “F Pombo” found its way into the personal bank account of RBP co-director, Darren Bobroff.

This may well amount to a dereliction of duty on the part of the LSNP.

The LSNP has denied this, saying that the failure by Mr Bobroff to “explain his conduct” cannot be blamed on the law society.

The LSNP was officially informed about the allegation in November 2012 when the North Gauteng High Court (NGHC) application of the Bobroff’s former clients Matthew and Jennifer Graham to have both Bobroffs suspended from legal practice, was served on them.

LSNP Director, Thinus Grobler, told Moneyweb that they “specifically demanded an explanation from Bobroff” in August 2013 regarding this cheque, but that he had fobbed them off, saying that the court must first deal with the Grahams’ complaint. “The fact that Mr Bobroff was not prepared to respond to our request for an explanation, may or may not be acceptable, but does not negate the steps taken by the Law Society to deal with the Pombo matter.”

Whistle-blower

The first allegations about the cheque surfaced in July 2009. It is not clear whether the matter was brought to the LSNP’s attention prior to the Graham application being launched in October 2012.

Former RBP bookkeeper, Bernadine van Wyk, referred to the suspicious transaction in an affidavit which was attached to the Grahams’ court application.

In her affidavit she refers to a letter written by her predecessor, Christy de Beer in July 2009 and addressed to RBP’s auditor André van der Merwe.

In the letter De Beer alleges that the signature on Pombo’s R115 600 cheque purports to be that of Ronald Bobroff, but that it is actually a forgery by Darren Bobroff.

See the back and front of Pombo’s cheque here.

Read Standard Bank’s email to Christy de Beer in which they confirm that Pombo’s cheque ended up in the personal account of D Bobroff.

The cheque itself was drawn from the firm’s business account, but these were in fact trust monies. De Beer observed in her letter that, “when you capture a business debit on our accounting system it will result in a Trust transfer – in other words taking the money from the Trust account and refunding the Business account.” She added: “I was suspicious on previous occasions but this one [Pombo] stood out, because the funds were [previously] invested [in a separate interest bearing trust account] in the client’s name.”

Attorneys have a specialised accounting system. When a disbursement is made on behalf of a client, it is ultimately recovered from the client’s funds, which are trust funds.

Van Wyk claims to have later found De Beer’s letter, and attached it to her affidavit.

Read van Wyk’s detailed affidavit here.

Read Christy de Beer’s letter here.

In response, the Bobroffs expressed their doubt about the letter’s authenticity, and strongly denied any wrongdoing. They stated that, “the surrounding circumstances are mundane and at the appropriate time and forum will be dealt with”. They have laid blame for this at the feet of their “bookkeepers”.

“We strenuously deny any theft from Mr Pombo, who was fully and properly accounted to in respect of all funds received in his matter, and who remains totally satisfied with our services.”

The Bobroffs refused Moneyweb’s request for the Pombos’ contact details, saying, “We have enquired from them and they do not wish to speak to you.”

Standalone complaint

The matter of Pombo’s cheque is an issue distinct from the Grahams’ claim and could have been dealt with by the LSNP as a standalone complaint. It was presumably for this reason that the LSNP directed an enquiry to the Bobroffs on the cheque issue, notwithstanding the LSNP opposing the Graham matter. Yet they have not taken the matter further.

The Bobroffs have from July 2009 to date failed to explain why and how an RBP cheque made out in favour of their road accident client “F Pombo” ended up in Darren Bobroff’s personal bank account, though they had a number of opportunities to do so.

The missing link

Is Pombo a ‘silent’ victim of an alleged “suspicious transaction”? De Beer’s letter suggests that Pombo was never made aware of this cheque. His name suggests that he may be a Portuguese or Mozambican national. He may no longer be resident in South Africa. Moneyweb is not aware of the circumstances surrounding Pombo’s road accident or what his injuries were.

The LSNP is ideally placed to track down Pombo. It could have approached the Road Accident Fund to enquire about Pombo’s contact details. It could have obtained his details from the Bobroffs. It could have reported the matter to the police. It has yet to do any of these.
It is not known when any disciplinary hearing about this matter will take place.

Instead, the LSNP seems content with Bobroff’s response that it is “premature” to ask for an explanation about the Pombo cheque, while the court is in the process of deciding the Graham complaint.

Read the LSNP’s full response here.

Who is in control of the LSNP?

The LSNP’s Council takes all its important decisions, such as whether to commence with disciplinary proceedings or have an attorney struck off, by way of a majority vote. The composition of the council is instructive.

The Attorneys Act dictates that each provincial law society council is comprised of twelve members. Since 1994 the council has invited a further twelve members to join the statutory component. Six of them are members of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) and six are from the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel).

The Attorneys Act says that councillors hold office for a “prescribed period” after which time they must be re-elected. This period is believed to be three years, yet no election has taken place since 2005. Ronald Bobroff is said to enjoy support from some quarters within the council. Whether or not this is a factor in the apparent inaction on the part of the LSNP to actively pursue the Pombo matter is unknown. The LSNP has undertaken to deal with Moneyweb’s questions about the composition of the council “shortly”.

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