The R95 million the fugitive personal injury lawyers Ronald and Darren Bobroff stole from South African road accident victims may never be returned to South Africa.
The Bobroffs reached a secret settlement with the State of Israel early last year to dodge criminal prosecution, which saw the Israeli government seize around R70 million of the money and drop criminal charges related to money laundering against the father and son duo in return. The Bobroffs retained the balance of R25 million.
Read: Goodbye to the Bobroff millions
However, it seems the Bobroffs are unhappy with the forfeiture of the R70 million to Israel.
They are taking it on review, with Darren Bobroff claiming in court papers that he was “intimidated” and “coerced” into signing it.
SA loses out
This means no money has been returned to South Africa despite the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling in May last year that the money was the proceeds of crime and must be forfeited to the state.
Israeli authorities never notified or consulted with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) or the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) before reaching the settlement. The Bobroffs also did not disclose it to South African courts, where they were engaged in litigation against the NPA.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation has not yet responded to Moneyweb’s questions about whether it was informed before the settlement was reached. We will publish the response once we receive it.
Richard Spoor, the Bobroffs’ South African attorney, did not want to comment on the settlement. “The agreement to forfeit moneys to the Israeli authorities is the subject of review proceedings in Israel, client will not comment on those.” (sic)
Moneyweb also sent questions to the State of Israel’s State Attorney’s office and the South African embassy but received no response.
Criminal charges withdrawn
The settlement followed the Israeli authorities instituting criminal proceedings against Darren Bobroff related to suspected money laundering. The Israelis also launched an application to seize assets in Australia, and these charges were subsequently withdrawn. (The Bobroffs fled South Africa for Australia in 2016 after the Hawks issued warrants for their arrest.)
Read: Interpol on the hunt for Ronald and Darren Bobroff 
The settlement reads that once the funds were transferred to Israel’s forfeiture fund, the remaining funds in the account would be transferred to a Bobroff account in Australia. The Israeli authorities would then “withdraw the legal assistance requested for the seizure of the respondent’s assets in Australia, and the criminal case … will be closed on the grounds of all circumstances not justifying prosecution, including all proceedings thereof”.
Wrapped in secrecy
It is clear that the Bobroffs tried to keep the settlement, which an Israeli court sanctioned on February 28 2021, a secret. They did not raise it during arguments in the SCA application, which was heard on February 23 2021, less than a week before the settlement was approved, when negotiations with the Israelis would presumably have been at an advanced stage.
Nor did Ronald Bobroff proactively disclose it in his failed application to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal against the SCA judgment, which was made a few months later on June 28 2021.
It was only disclosed by the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) in court papers filed in response the Bobroffs’ Constitutional Court application. The NPA stated that the Israeli justice ministry informed it of the settlement more than a month later, on April 6 2021.
The NDPP affidavit quotes a paragraph from the letter it received from the Israelis:
“A civil forfeiture proceeding was also initiated by the Israeli prosecution based on the same aforementioned Israeli domestic offences. In the context of the aforementioned civil forfeiture proceedings, the Israeli authorities recently entered into a settlement with Bobroff. Taking into account a wide array of factors, the settlement included the closing of the criminal file against Bobroff and the forfeiture of funds that were seized in Israel in the civil forfeiture and criminal proceedings.”
NPA spokesperson Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed that there was no consultation before the settlement was reached.
“The only proposal the AFU [Asset Forfeiture Unit] received from the Israelis (after the settlement was reached) was to share three million shekels (around R14.5 million) with South Africa as a token of goodwill between the countries, which is not acceptable to the AFU. The engagements are ongoing.”
Mhaga also said the settlement does not affect a possible decision to prosecute the Bobroffs.
“There is currently an issue with the completion of a forensic report that is crucial to finalising the prosecution decision as well as preparing an extradition request.”
The Bobroffs only acknowledged the settlement in court papers submitted in response to the NPA’s disclosure to the Constitutional Court.
The details eventually emerged in Ronald Bobroffs’ replying affidavit, where he included the settlement agreement as well as communication between his legal team and Israeli authorities as annexures.
View all five pages of the settlement agreement and communication between the Bobroffs’ legal team and Israeli authorities here.
He did not offer any explanation as to why it was not disclosed earlier.
Spoor said in response to Moneyweb’s questions that the settlement was not put before the court as it “was not relevant to the appeal proceedings where the issue, left undetermined by the Constitutional Court, was if our client had committed any crime and if the moneys, invested in an Israeli bank, were the proceeds of crime. For the avoidance of doubt, he did not, and they were not.”(sic)
Reserve Bank fine
The Bobroffs’ problems are not limited to the NPA.
The Sarb also fined the duo $635 000 or R9.2 million in 2018 for illegally transferring money to Israel. The fine was never paid.
In a letter the Bobroffs’ Israeli attorneys wrote to Israeli authorities shortly after the settlement was reached, it appears the duo were fined by the Sarb after they declared the illegal transfer of funds to Israel through a voluntary disclosure programme in return for amnesty from prosecution.
In the letter, the attorneys asked the Israeli authorities to pay the [Sarb] fine from the R70 million the Bobroffs have forfeited, as they have paid a “very high price” for withdrawing the money from South Africa.
“In light of the above, we would ask you to refer less than one-sixth of the forfeited funds to the payment of the levies, in order to bring this affair to an end, in all respects, since it cannot be disputed that our clients paid a very high price for withdrawing money from South Africa, without a permit, and that price is satisfactory, and there is no place to add to it.”
It seems however that the Israeli authorities did not accede to the request.
In response to questions, Sarb spokesperson Ziyanda Mtshali said the bank’s compliance department “is not aware of any engagement between the Israeli authorities and the Financial Surveillance Department regarding the Bobroff matter”.
Spoor did not respond to whether the Bobroffs had settled the fine, stating that the issue is “a matter between the Bobroffs and the Reserve Bank”.