Fourteen years after fleeing the country amid fraud allegations, disbarred lawyer Ian Stokes will finally stand trial in SA.

Durban - A former friend and business associate of disbarred attorney Ian Stokes on Wednesday labelled him “a thief” who had stolen R2 million from him.

Retired clothing company director Robbie Sevel was giving evidence before Durban High Court Judge Esther Steyn, who is presiding over a trial in which Stokes is facing a single R7m charge of theft “by general deficiency” from his trust account.

Sevel, who was in partnership with Stokes in the Florida Road-based R&I Projects, said he had deposited the R2m into Stokes’s trust account in 1998 to start up the RAF claims business. He said Stokes had explained there was money to be made out of a business model that would buy claims from road accident victims who would get a certain portion upfront and the balance of 70 percent of the claim once the RAF had processed it.

R&I would then get 30 percent – which would be ceded to it by the claimant upfront – and Stokes would get the legal costs.

“We did a trial run and it seemed it would be lucrative,” Sevel said. “The money came from an off-shore loan in Zurich, I organised for the transfer and Stokes confirmed that it had been deposited.”

He said he had no access to the books but had “trusted Stokes” to run the business as he saw fit. “It was a bad mistake,” he said. “The company was eventually liquidated because it was bankrupt. At the end, there was very little money left in its bank account. No (RAF) claims were bought – it was all a lie. He took my money and stole it. It’s very simple. He was a thief.”

Sevel said he had become aware of a problem when, the same day that Stokes asked him for more money, claiming that the company had run out of funds, he had he received a call from a mutual friend, Garth O’Connor.

“The gist of it was I must not hand over any more money. He believed something was going on. The next day… (Ian’s brother) advocate Andre Stokes told us that the business was bankrupt, there was no money and he (Ian Stokes) had done whatever he had done with the money.”

The trial continues on Thursday.

The Mercury