Pretoria - Fugitive former personal injury lawyers Ronald Bobroff and his son Darren have received a small reprieve from the Supreme Court of Appeal.
It ordered that slightly over R7 million of the more than R100m which was earlier forfeited to the State be handed back to them.
This followed an appeal by the two who fled to Australia in 2016 and challenged the forfeiture of money said to be hidden in bank accounts in Israel.
The National Director of Public Prosecutions earlier successfully applied for the money to be forfeited to the State.
In an application before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, in 2019, it claimed the money was the proceeds of crime.
The assets – held in a bank account belonging to Darren and another to his father – have been frozen by the Israeli authorities in terms of anti-money-laundering provisions and were later forfeited to the South African authorities in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
The Bobroffs questioned on appeal whether the High Court in Pretoria had jurisdiction to make a forfeiture order in terms of the act in respect of property situated outside South Africa and belonging to persons who are now resident in Australia.
They also challenged whether the National Director of Public Prosecutions had established that the property forfeited was “proceeds of unlawful activities” as defined in the legislation.
The Bobroffs had been prominent attorneys practising as directors of the firm Ronald Bobroff and Partners Incorporated in Johannesburg.
In 2010, allegations began to surface that the firm had over the preceding three years charged clients inflated fees.
The pair were eventually disbarred on the same day that the SAPS issued warrants of arrest for them.
However, in March 2016, before the warrants could be executed, Darren Bobroff left for Australia and his father followed three days later.
Neither has returned since. As a result of their sudden departure, the SAPS caused a Red Notice to be circulated through Interpol.
In 2017 the state attorney in Israel sent a request for assistance to the Department of Justice in South Africa. The request recorded that the police in Israel were investigating suspected money laundering, allegedly been committed by the Bobroffs in Israel.
Following an investigation, the prosecuting authorities here claimed that the money in these accounts represent proceeds of unlawful activities in South Africa, in particular theft, fraud, money laundering and transgressions of South African tax laws.
The Supreme Court said evidence showed that the period of misconduct by the father and son extended over five years. Five justices said a simple calculation revealed that at least R90 million had been illegitimately charged to unsuspecting clients.
Substantial sums were moved into accounts of the Bobroffs in 2009 to 2010, upon which interest has accrued in the interim.
“The origin of the money is a matter exclusively within the knowledge of the Bobroffs and they have made no attempt to explain it.
“The conclusion is therefore that the forfeiture order is not disproportionate to the proceeds received from the unlawful activity proved,” the Supreme Court said.
While it found that the bulk of the money was from illegal gains, it did give the Bobroffs the benefit of the doubt regarding a total of about R7m.