Attorneys who defraud Road Accident Fund claimants 'must be rooted out'
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Cape Town - Personal injury lawyers and the Road Accident Fund (RAF) are furious after a number of attorneys allegedly defrauded the entity in the name of claimants, with the Western Cape among the three most affected provinces.
In a recent case, the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crimes Court sentenced Eslin Meyer, 63, to eight years’ imprisonment.
He was found guilty of 61 counts of fraud and theft totalling R6.4 million for failure to keep proper accounting records of funds received by an attorney in a trust account.
Meyer, an attorney who represented RAF clients and administered deceased estates, operated three trust accounts and two business accounts when he was the owner of the Eslin Meyer Attorneys, which had offices in Mitchells Plain and Gordon’s Bay.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said Meyer’s clients made claims against the RAF, filled in forms supplied to them by Meyer, and submitted them with all the necessary supporting documents.
Ntabazalila said, after administering the claims, the RAF would make payments into the trust accounts in favour of the claimants.
Hawks spokesperson Zinzi Hani said Meyer helped himself to RAF payouts that were due to his clients.
According to the court, his clients suffered financial ruin.
Nombulelo Sokam allegedly received a claim of R1.134m, but she received only R402 413 after he transferred R732 354 to his personal bank account.
Suleiman Christians allegedly did not receive a cent of his R373 365 RAF claim. Between July 2006 and February 2007, R1.180m was paid into Meyer’s law firm’s trust account. He used the money for personal and business expenses.
Personal Injury Plaintiff Lawyers Association (Pipla) chairperson Advocate Justin Erasmus said the vast majority of attorneys operated honestly and ethically and performed an invaluable service to persons who would otherwise not have access to justice.
Erasmus said in any big system there would often be a few rotten apples who must be acted against vigorously.
He said fraudsters have no place in their profession, and their activities undermine the hard work and high standards upheld by the vast majority of attorneys.
He said Pipla has no sympathy whatsoever for attorneys who commit fraud and believed they must face the full legal consequences of their actions.
RAF spokesperson William Maphutha said it took a long time to build a provable case against an attorney, and the criminal court process took even longer, as was evident in Meyer’s case.
“Attorneys have formed the habit to pay their clients only a small portion of the settlement and to use the bulk to pay the advocate, medical professionals and actuaries with the rest,” said Maphutha.
He said that was done even though these experts were financially stable, while the claimant often desperately needed money.
He said in all matters where the claimant was defrauded the RAF could act only when it became aware of this, which happens more often when a claimant complains to the RAF.
“Where more than one complaint from a certain firm is received, the RAF can embark on a project to investigate payments made to all claimants,” he said.
Erasmus said the RAF must remain vigilant, and where fraudulent activities were noted, they must be reported to the police.
“We have noted that the RAF has recently exhibited a willingness to act against fraudsters and we commend them for this.”
He said he has only two criticisms regarding how the RAF deals with its investigations: investigations could be a protracted process and perhaps additional resources should be allocated to their investigators.
“RAF has never engaged professional bodies such as Pipla on how to combat fraud, and we tender our co-operation and place on record our willingness to engage the RAF on this issue.”
He said they shared a common interest in stamping out fraud.