Life in Australia is very difficult for fugitive personal injury lawyers Ronald and Darren Bobroff, and it stems from a “posturing incompetent” National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and opportunistic Israeli authorities, says Richard Spoor, the Bobroffs’ lawyer in South Africa.
In a lengthy interview with Moneyweb, he said the Bobroffs are “broke” and suffered a huge injustice, which he labelled as “manifestly unjust and unfair”.
Listen to/ read the the full interview with Richard Spoor and the NPA’s Suna de Villiers below:
Spoor opened up after the news broke of Darren Bobroff’s secret settlement with Israeli authorities to avoid criminal prosecution for money laundering. This agreement saw Israeli authorities seizing R70 million of the R95 million they froze back in 2017, while the Bobroffs were allowed to retain the balance.
‘Life is difficult’
Spoor said life is currently difficult for the Bobroffs and that they are facing financial problems.
“They’ve lost everything they built up in South Africa.
“They can’t work as attorneys there, and it’s actually a very depressing, very sad scenario, especially for a man like Ronald,” said Spoor.
“He’s done so much, was such a well-regarded successful attorney and is now finding himself as ostracised from his own community, isolated, alone, and enduring significant hardship. It’s very bad. It’s very ugly. It’s very unhappy.”
Spoor made it clear that the Bobroffs are not happy with the Israeli settlement agreement.
He labelled the agreement as “extortion” and said Darren Bobroff only signed the agreement to stay out of jail. He blamed a “stupid and incompetent” NPA for putting the Israelis in a position to extort the money.
“NPA engaged with the Israeli authorities and said it wanted the money back. The Israelis saw this as a golden opportunity to grab the money for themselves … The Israelis said [to the Bobroffs]: ‘We’re going to apply for the extradition of Darren Bobroff. We’re going to have him arrested, held pending extradition. Then we are going to extradite him to Israel, and we are going to hold him here in custody until the trial is over – unless you agree to forfeit this money to us, in which event we’ll leave you alone.’ … It’s extortion. It’s disgraceful behaviour,” said Spoor.
“It’s a farce, frankly. The South Africans [NPA] lost their money because they were stupid and incompetent in the way they dealt with the matter.”
The Bobroffs have also indicated that they are taking the settlement on review in Israel.
Advocate Suna de Villiers from the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit acknowledged that the news of the settlement was “devastating” but said discussions with the Israeli authorities were ongoing.
De Villiers does not believe the Israelis were opportunistic.
“My impression was never that the Israelis were opportunistic. I thought that their case was very well researched. I do know that they did come to South Africa to sort out certain issues, and I do believe that the case that they presented there was strong and based on evidence in their possession.
“I think the mere fact that Mr Bobroff was willing to reach a deal to keep himself out of jail shows what kind of evidence the Israelis have … The evidence speaks for itself and the SCA [Supreme Court of Appeal judgment] confirms that.”
Moneyweb has been informed that the secret settlement may escalate to a diplomatic spat between the two countries, although it has not been referred to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).
Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele confirmed to Moneyweb that the department is aware of the developments, but that the NPA is dealing with the matter.
‘NPA is yet to produce a charge sheet since 2016’
Spoor was also highly critical of the NPA for not having produced a charge sheet against his clients since it issued warrants of arrest in 2016, and the duo subsequently fled to Australia.
“It’s pathetic. It’s rubbish, and that’s why I’m willing to defend the Bobroffs, because it’s clear to me they’ve been railroaded … And the reason they haven’t done anything is because they have nothing. They don’t have a case against the Bobroffs. They don’t have it. It’s a farce, it’s a joke. There is no valid criminal case that could be made against the Bobroffs. There is no case.”
Spoor also reconfirmed that the Bobroffs would return to South Africa on the condition that they won’t be held in custody during a trial. “Give us an undertaking that you won’t hold them in custody, which is the real threat. Ronald Bobroff is 78 years old and not in good health.”
The NPA did not respond to questions as to why it has not been able to produce a charge sheet since the Bobroffs fled in 2016. However, the NPA referred Moneyweb to a previous statement in which spokesperson Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga said the NPA had almost completed a forensic report and was finalising a prosecution decision. Mhaga also said an extradition application may follow.
Law society forensic report
Moneyweb challenged Spoor on his insistence of the Bobroffs being innocent, as a forensic report by the Law Society of the Northern Provinces found significant irregularities in the Bobroffs’ books.
The report, which was commissioned in 2015 to analyse the firm’s books, found the Bobroffs overcharged clients, stole from clients, and that the firm contravened income and value-added tax legislation.
Read the full report here.
However, Spoor denied the report found any wrongdoing. “Speak to the administrator of their trust account. There’s nothing there. We have the reports. There is nothing.”
However, one prominent finding of the report was that a cheque made out to one of the firm’s clients – Philipe Pombo – for R115 600 was deposited into Darren Bobroff’s personal bank account.
Spoor described it as an “accident”.
“That is the only incident that they can allude to that has been dealt with. That is allegedly the Bobroffs’ claim. It was by accident. It was a mistake. That is it. That is the sum total of the case against the Bobroffs. And it doesn’t even impact on Ronald at all,” Spoor said.
Illegal transfer of money to Israel
Spoor also did not offer an explanation as to why the Bobroffs transferred the money illegally to Israel. “There is no argument that it was done without the authority of the Reserve Bank, it was after-tax money,” he said.
He also said the Bobroffs did not have the money to pay the R9.2 million fine the Reserve Bank levied in response (to the transfer).
“How are they going to pay it? They don’t have any money. They have nothing left between them. The South Africans facilitated the Israeli seizure of their savings, and those have been grabbed and there’s nothing left. They’re impoverished, they’re broke. They have nothing,” he said.
Spoor said he believes the steps taken against the Bobroffs came as they made “very influential enemies”, most notably Discovery Health.
He said Ronald Bobroff challenged the way medical funds recovered their medical expenses related to vehicle accidents from the settlements the Road Accident Fund (RAF) paid to victims.
“This made him unpopular, and all this litigation was bankrolled by Discovery. It has been an orchestrated deliberate campaign, and it’s unjustified, and it’s wrong.”
“They [Discovery] didn’t contribute to the recovery of that money. They didn’t contribute towards the legal costs, and where settlements had to be discounted, say for shortcomings in the merits that required discounting, Discovery took their full outlay, leaving many of these people without any general damages and basically severely under-compensated.”
In response, Deon Kotze, head of research and development at Discovery Health, denied Spoor’s allegations.
“Discovery’s role is to recover funds for the schemes under administration. In this regard, Discovery and the schemes [have] never compromised any member’s claim for damages from the RAF – to the contrary. Discovery only ever recovers medical expenses which were paid for in duplicate i.e. by both an administered medical scheme and the RAF.
“Discovery fully compensates every attorney for the work performed in the recovery of medical expenses ensuring that members are never out of pocket. These recoveries are regularly audited, and the panel of attorneys are in good standing, subject to rigorous scrutiny and governance. The medical schemes are independently audited, and the recoveries are important to the accumulated member funds of the schemes, to ensure that no individual benefits from a duplicate payment for the same medical claim.”
Kotze sent Moneyweb two letters Ronald Bobroff wrote to Discovery, in 1998 and 2001, in which Bobroff requested to be allowed to serve on Discovery’s panel of attorneys.
In the letters, Ronald Bobroff offered that his firm would recover the medical expenses Discovery paid towards the treatment of Discovery members from the eventual RAF settlements. The method of recovery proposed by Bobroff was prejudicial to Discovery’s members’ access to healthcare, and in the context of noting irregularities, was rejected by Discovery.
Discovery never allowed Bobroff to serve on its panel.