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Cape Town – A lawyer was jailed for eight years after convicted of defrauding clients in payments made by the Road Accident Fund (RAF) in excess of R 6 million.
Eslin Meyer, 63-year-old owner of Eslin Meyer Attorneys with offices in Mitchell’s Plain and Gordon’s Bay, who represents clients on RAF affairs and deceased estate administration, was convicted in the Bellville Specialized Crime Court earlier this week.
Eric Ntabazalila, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), said the conviction stemmed from a lengthy trial in which Meyer was charged with theft and failed to keep proper accounting records of the funds held in escrow from an attorney.
“He had three escrow accounts and two business accounts. His customers asserted claims against the RAF, filled out the forms supplied by Meyer and sent them all the necessary documents.
“After the claims are managed, the RAF would make payments in favor of the applicants to the escrow accounts,” said Ntabazalila.
Attorney Tommy Bunguzana told the court that as of November 23, 2013, a total of 61 applications had been filed with the Fidelity Fund against funds held by Meyer. The Fidelity Fund paid R 6.44 million to claimants who had been defrauded by Meyer.
“A Fidelity Fund is a fund established to compensate members of the public who have suffered financial loss through theft of trust funds entrusted to an attorney as part of his normal practice. The Fidelity Fund is financed by interest on the trust funds held in the attorney’s escrow account.
“When embezzling the funds, Meyer presented his customers with false payment invoices, whereby he only paid a certain part of the funds and kept the remaining amount for himself.
“In some cases, he kept the full RAF payments and paid out the money without reporting any successful claims and receipts to his clients,” said Ntabazalila.
It was revealed in court that several of Meyer’s customers were suffering financially, including Nombulelo Sokam, who received a claim of R1.1.134 million but only received R1402.413 after Meyer transferred R732.354 to his personal bank account.
“Suleiman Christians have not received a cent of his R373 365 RAF demand. Between July 2006 and February 2007, Rl 1.18 million was paid into the trust account of the law firm (Meyer). He used the money for personal and business expenses, ”said Ntabazalila.
Bunguzana argued that Meyer had committed the crime with impunity for an extended period of time. “The defendant did not take the court’s confidence in explaining why he committed this crime, but rather maintained his innocence despite the mountain of evidence against him. His motivation for this offense was pure greed and selfishness. The first factor makes this case more serious than ordinary economic crime. It is Meyer’s contemptuous disregard for the dire consequences of his plan for innocent people, ”argued Bunguzana.
Ntabazalila said the NPA welcomed the verdict.
RAF spokesman William Maphutha said: “We applaud the ruling and hope it sends a clear message to those pursuing vulnerable applicants. We also encourage our applicants to report any suspicious activity by any of the lawyers on their service to either the LPC or the police. ”