Lawyers deny wrongdoing over Kobi millions

The use of former Israeli fugitive Kobi Alexander’s trust accounts held with a local law firm has come into question, as suspicion lingers on how the country’s legal fraternity is handling clients’ money.

25 February 2021 | Justice

MATHIAS HAUFIKU

WINDHOEK

Lawyers Richard Metcalfe and Louis Du Pisani have poured cold water on a government report that suggested that the trust account of their then joint law firm was used a personal account of former US-Israeli fugitive Kobi Alexpander.

A confidential briefing note, kept secret over the years, compiled by Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile, who at the time worked in the justice ministry’s Directorate of Legal Services and International Cooperation, sheds light on how Alexander allegedly accessed his money using a law firm’s trust account.

In July 2006, Alexander transferred over US$57 million out of the USA to Israel.

That same month, his wife Rachel Alexander transferred CHF 6,200,000 (about N$59 million at the time) from Bank Julius Baer and Co Ltd in Switzerland into Metcalfe Legal Practitioners’ Standard Bank trust account.

These figures are contained in a 2011 report compiled by the justice ministry after it had conducted an investigation into the financial affairs of Alexander and his legal representatives at Metcalfe Legal Practitioners and Du Pisani Legal Practitioners.

The government at the time suspected that Alexander and his lawyers were laundering the proceeds of crime and in the process violating various Namibian laws, but no evidence of this suspicion was unearthed.

In fact, a letter from the US Department of Justice dated 26 April 2017 indicates that Alexander’s money in Namibian bank accounts was not the proceeds of crime.

“The above stated position of the US authorities confirms what we have all along maintained towards the authorities in Namibia and really is the end of the matter,” Du Pisani told Namibian Sun two weeks ago.

However, questions have been raised in Namibia about the manner in which Alexander used his trust account held at the law firm.

“Essentially Alexander is using his lawyers’ trust account as his business account and his personal account (as well as that of his family) and this is not allowed in terms of the applicable rules of the Law Society,” Katjipuka-Sibolile wrote in a 2011 report that has been kept under wraps.

To this, Metcalfe said: “What Mr Alexander’s instructions were as to what family members were to receive funds held in trust and or what entities were to be paid from Mr Alexander’s trust fund simply has nothing to do with you or any other member of the public.”

Metcalfe said all funds were paid into Metcalfe Legal Practitioners Trust Accounts with the written authorisation of the Bank of Namibia in 2006.

These revelations come at the height of serious questions being asked about lawyers using their trust accounts as conveyor belts of ill-acquired money.

Several prominent lawyers, such as Sisa Namandje, Maren de Klerk and Chris Brandt, have been thrust into spotlight over how their law firms’ trust accounts were used by questionable clients.

The suspicion over how Alexander’s Namibian lawyers handled his money arose from the fact that he was at the time a fugitive from justice in the USA and under federal investigations in that country.

The US sought to freeze the funds Alexander brought into Namibia, a process for which the American authorities actually obtained a freezing order in their country.

Easy way out

In 2018, less than a day before he was due to appear in the Windhoek High Court as a respondent in an urgent application, lawyer Chris Brandt took his own life.

The Law Society of Namibia wanted the court to order Brandt's temporary suspension from practising law after irregularities were picked up in a trust account in which Brandt kept money on behalf of clients of his practice.

Brandt allegedly utilized funds from his firm’s trust in 2015 to pay his business expenses.

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