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Israel and SA unite to nab Bobroffs



As Israeli and South African legal authorities collaborate in securing a court victory against Ronald Bobroff and his son, the fugitive attorney continues to rail about personal vendettas and conspiracies against him.

About R95 million held by the Bobroffs in Israeli accounts was declared as the proceeds of thievery and money laundering in a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) last month, which ordered the money to be handed over to South African legal authorities.

Bobroff, who has since filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court, told the SA Jewish Report that this finding was “plainly wrong” and “there were no irregularities” in terms of handling their Israeli bank accounts. He asserted that that his firm had always “delivered an exceptional service”, and clients “who believe that they have been overcharged are free to institute civil proceedings”.

In 2016, Bobroff, and his son, Darren, both Johannesburg-based personal-injury attorneys, were disbarred following the emergence of details of financial irregularities. A warrant was issued for their arrest, but before it could be executed, they left for Australia. An Interpol Red Notice that allows for the provisional arrest of a person pending extradition or other similar legal actions has since been issued.

In a statement issued by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) about the SCA judgment, it said the court had found, “on a balance of probabilities” both “the allegations of dishonesty, theft, and fraud had been established”, as well as “the funds in the Israeli accounts were the proceeds of the unlawful activities”. It also said “the money had been laundered to disguise its origin and identity prior to deposit”.

The Bobroffs appealed against a forfeiture order granted by the High Court in Pretoria in August 2019 in relation to their accounts held at the Bank Discounts and the Bank Mizrahi Tefahot in Israel. They contested whether the High Court had the jurisdiction to grant the order across countries. The court found it was, indeed, empowered to do so. It also found that the bulk of the money in the Israeli accounts was the proceeds of crime.

Advocate Priya Biseswar, the special director of public prosecutions in South Africa’s Asset Forfeiture Unit, praised the engagement between Israeli and South African legal authorities in securing this judgment. She told the SA Jewish Report that “co-operation between the countries had been consistent and helpful”.

Collaborative efforts between the two countries began in 2017, when the state attorney in Israel contacted South African authorities. Israeli police began a money laundering investigation after a bank compliance officer noticed a suspicious transaction in one of the Bobroffs’ Israeli accounts. When the Israelis became aware of the Red Notice, they contacted South Africa and the accounts were frozen. The High Court in Pretoria thwarted the Bobroffs’ attempts to get the money back, instead granting the forfeiture order.

The only concession the SCA gave was that about R7 million of about R103 million in the Israeli bank accounts could be directly identified as not sourced from criminal practices, and thus was excluded from forfeiture.

In the SCA judgment, drafted by acting Judge of Appeal Johannes Eksteen, he detailed how the Bobroffs described travelling overseas over many years, usually with their wives, and depositing their travel allowances in different banks abroad. The Bobroffs said the reason they opened and closed different accounts was because “they had been advised by the banks that it was a simple matter for banking authorities in South Africa to determine whether the travellers’ cheques had been deposited into international bank accounts, and then to take steps to attempt to attach the credit amounts”.

“The purpose of the exercise was accordingly to disguise the origin and identity of the money. This practice bore all the hallmarks of money laundering,” Eksteen said.

Moreover, said the appeals judge, the explanations provided by the Bobroffs about the origin and nature of funds in their various Israeli accounts were “vague and unhelpful” and fell “woefully short”. He went on to say, “In the absence of a cogent explanation, which is clearly called for, I consider that the overwhelming probability is that these funds are the proceeds of crimes.”

The SCA came to the conclusion that the Bobroffs were guilty of theft when it looked back at a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling declaring that the way in which the Bobroffs charged fees to certain clients was unlawful. In the judgment, Eksteen declared that “the Bobroffs’ overreaching [in the fees charged], coupled with their decision to retain their gains and investing or reinvesting same for their own benefit, after 2014, knowing that they were not entitled to the money, constituted theft”.

In voice recordings made after the SCA judgment which are in possession of the SA Jewish Report, Ronald Bobroff rants against the ruling, criticising the finding of thievery. He reflects how the court “said, well, but we kept the money and we invested it and used it and that’s theft as well”. He then sarcastically queries whether “what we should have done is we should have gone on our hands and knees, contacted every former client and said, ‘Indeed, I’m so sorry. You know, I worked for five years on a case on risks, spent lots of my own money, got you a great result, but, you know, because the court now said the agreement is now invalid – well, I want to pay you back and I’m going to pay back the difference between my percentage fee and the peanuts I can draw…’”

In the recordings, Bobroff also remains adamant that he and his sons are victims of a “lynch mob mentality – to get us no matter what”. The SA Jewish Report contacted Bobroff asking for confirmation of the veracity of various claims and extracts of the recordings. In a reply sent by his attorney, Richard Spoor, Bobroff verified that he believed himself to have been “unjustly vilified. I believe that I have conducted myself honourably throughout my long legal career in South Africa”.

Bobroff has now appealed to the Constitutional Court in the matter regarding his Israeli bank accounts. He told the SA Jewish Report he was confident that he would be vindicated.

Asked about the state of the NPA’s larger case against the Bobroffs, NPA spokesman Sipho Ngwema said it was “critical that those responsible for this mess account fully to their victims and the people of South Africa. We will pursue this matter until justice is done – there should be no hiding place for fugitives from justice”.

Before publication of this article, Bobroff chose to send a second response to the SA Jewish Report. In this letter, he stated that he remained proud of Israel’s achievements “notwithstanding my betrayal by certain officials”.

He also suggested that “readers might find some interest” in the assistance he had organised for disabled Israeli soldiers following a 1994 visit, after which he “resolved to try and do whatever I could in some small way, to assist the plight [of] these disabled soldiers”.

Bobroff also said he noted that “the SA Jewish Report has consistently maintained the narrative that I’m the archetypal ‘thieving Jewish lawyer’. I invite you to reflect on this”.

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