Durban – The dark underworld of the legal profession is being blamed for the death last week of a Durban lawyer, four months after he was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting outside his home.
Devastated relatives of Rabin Maharaj, 61, believe he was targeted by someone linked to one of his cases.
The veteran lawyer, who had been practising for 33 years, usually busied himself with mundane conveyancing work. But three months before he was shot, he was briefed on an unusual matter involving an attorney-cum-loan shark, who was alleged to have been fleecing pensioners of their homes.
The man was suspected of lending up to R125 000 to pensioners, who had to use their homes as security, said a relative of Maharaj’s, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Before the loan was paid out, the pensioners had to sign a purchase and sale agreement, as well as all transfer documents. The victims claimed they were not aware they were signing over their properties.”
The relative claimed the interest rate was set at a staggering 10% a month, which was illegal.
“The pensioners were unable to pay the instalments, and because of this, the attorney took over their properties. The victims were referred to Rabin by a pastor in the area. Seeing their desperation and disgusted by the suspected fraud, Rabin agreed to take the case on for no fee.”
The relative said Maharaj did a deed search and found that the properties had been registered in the name of the attorney’s nephew.
He reported the matter to the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society.
“Rabin also instituted a high court application against the attorney to set aside the transfer of the properties. A month before he was shot, he received threats from the attorney, saying that if he knew what was good for him, he would drop the case, but Rabin continued to pursue the matter,” he said.
The relative said his family had warned him not to pursue the case because of the threats, but he did not listen. “I think Rabin was concerned about the victims and that the attorney had taken advantage of them. He himself wanted justice and he wanted to root out corruption in the field.”
Maharaj was shot in the abdomen outside his home in uMhlanga Ridge on September 28 around 7.20pm.
“Rabin was rushed to uMhlanga Hospital, where he stayed for 21 days with a private security guard watching over him. He was later discharged and spent some time at home recuperating from his wound and surgery.”
Maharaj stepped up the security at his home after the shooting.
“Rabin became concerned about the welfare of his family because the incident happened right outside his home. He became a bit more cautious after the shooting.”
On January 11, Maharaj returned to hospital for more surgery. He died on January 22.
Describing the shooting as an assassination attempt, the relative said the family wanted justice to prevail.
“Rabin was an attorney for 33 years and was always willing to assist anyone as he believed in fairness and justice for all. He was passionate about the law, specifically his speciality, conveyancing, which is related to property transfers,” he said.
“Anyone who knows what happened needs to come forward. All Rabin wanted to do was to help people in need, and now he is gone.”
He said Maharaj’s wife and children were struggling to come to terms with their loss.
“They loved him so much. He did everything for them and they can’t believe he is gone.”
A colleague, advocate Mickey Naidoo, described Maharaj as an upright and honest person.
“We met at university, and one thing I noticed about him was that he always acted for those who were downtrodden in society.”
Attorney Yvonne Singh agreed with Naidoo, saying that although the profession had often been tarnished by corrupt lawyers, Maharaj was someone who could be trusted.
“He was the most amazing man who was simple, down to earth and honest. In our profession we have lots of corrupt attorneys, but anything that came from his office you could trust. He upheld the law.”
Singh said lawyers were finding it hard to gain the trust of the public.
“We find ourselves having to sit with clients and convince them that we are legitimate and that their money is safe with us. This is how bad it has got.”
Gavin John, the director of the KZN Law Society, confirmed that Maharaj had lodged a complaint against an attorney on behalf of his clients.
“The last correspondence we have from Mr Maharaj is him notifying us that he had been shot and was pursuing high court action in order for the properties to be transferred to the clients,” he said.
John said now that Maharaj had died, the society would correspond directly with the clients to find out if they wanted to take the matter further.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant- Colonel Thulani Zwane said a case of murder was being investigated, but no arrests had been made.