Australia, with apparent open arms, has welcomed Johannesburg lawyers Ronald and Darren Bobroff to its sandy shores.
The father and son pair, are the lastest South African fugitives who have fled to Australia, ahead of likely criminal proceedings in their home country.
They join alleged $1.5bn ponzi scheme mastermind Barry Tannenbaum (the subject of a book by investigative journalist Rob Rose called ‘The Grand Scam’) who disappeared into the Gold Coast scene in 2009 and was most recently an Uber taxi driver.
I blogged about Barry Tannenbaum on Freshlyworded a couple of years ago.
According to South African media reports, Ronald and Darren Bobroff fled South Africa in late March this year, shortly before they were due to hand themselves into the Hawks, a specialist division of the South African Police that investigates serious commercial and organised crime.
The Bobroff pair also sold off their law firm, Ronald Bobroff & Partners to another Johannesburg law firm, Taitz and Skikne, before heading Down Under.
Their alleged crime: overcharging accident victims for claims against the Road Accident Fund, a public entity which compensates people injured in road accidents in South Africa.
Just how much the Bobroffs allegedly overcharged their clients is not known, but according to a spokesperson for the RAF, R178 million ($16m) of suspected fraud cases were identified during the 2014/15 year alone.
In January 2016, Discovery Health (part of listed financial services giant Discovery Limited, which has market cap R78bn – $7bn -) put out a statement on its cover for motor vehicle accidents and the Road Accident Fund. It included the following:
In 2014, all Ronald Bobroff and Partners (RBP) fee agreements with its clients were declared unlawful by the Constitutional Court. This resulted in numerous High Court judgments being granted against RBP in favour of its former clients, requiring RBP to repay many millions of Rand in unlawfully retained fees.
South African law restricts lawyers fees to 30 per cent of any award paid out by the RAF, but it is alleged that the Bobroffs kept as much as 40 per cent.
Ronald Bobroff told The Star newspaper he had fled the country with his son and daugher-in-law following a tip-off that they were to be arrested. His 68-year-old wife Elaine was not so lucky. She was prevented from fleeing a week later, spent a night in jail and was released on bail of R150,000 ($13,300).
Speaking to Eyewitness News from Australia, Ronald Bobroff said the “allegations were false” and that he would make a “statement in due course”.
It appears highly unlikely that the Bobroffs will be extradited to South Africa to face the charges made against them. Extradition would require the co-operation of the Australian government and Australian Federal Police which have to date not shown any desire to return Barry Tannenbaum to his native land to face his accusers.
In South Africa, the Bobroff’s law firm is now under the control of the Law Society of the Northern Province with Ronald Bobroff facing the threat of losing his right to practise law in South Africa.
The Law Society of the Northern Province released this statement, published on legal website polity.org.za:
The Council of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces has noted with concern that attorneys, Mr Ronald Bobroff and Mr Darren Bobroff, who are facing serious charges of overcharging clients and related fraudulent actions, are alleged to have absconded from the Republic to Australia. The Law Society had already instituted legal proceedings against the pair and their co-director in the law firm Ronald Bobroff & Partners Inc to have them struck from the roll of attorneys and a curator appointed to the firm in order to protect the interests of the firms’ clients. The judgment of the Court is awaited. The Law Society calls on Mr Ronald Bobroff and Mr Darren Bobroff as senior attorneys to honour their oaths of office and to return to South Africa and to face the charges against them. Clients of their firm, members of the public and all stakeholders are assured that everything possible is being done by the Law Society to ensure that the interests of all concerned are protected.
Issued by Law Society Northern Province
Not that either would concern Ronald or his son Darren, who almost certainly have no plans to return.
It’s likely they are well set-up in Australia with Darren Bobroff owning two Sydney apartments in the Eastern Suburbs.
A three-bedroom apartment in Vaucluse was purchased in 2002 for $650,000 while another apartment was purchased in the same block for $309,000 in 1994.
In a more recent update, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams said in April: “Of course we are deeply concerned at the fact that Mr Bobroff had evaded justice and had fled to another country, but I can reassure the public that the matter is receiving the requisite attention from my office and that of other law enforcement agencies.”