High court sanctions lawyer in RAF fraud probe

Judge finds part of R3.5m went to Masimla’s pocket and interdicts him

High court sanctions lawyer in fraud investigation.
High court sanctions lawyer in fraud investigation.
Image: 123RF/Ginasanders

A lawyer who claimed he kept over R1.3m of a disabled client’s Road Accident Fund claim payout because it had been lent to him, has been interdicted from practising as an attorney pending an application to strike him off the roll of attorneys.

Judge Judith Roberson, with judge Jeremy Pickering agreeing, dismissed as “far-fetched and palpably implausible” Port Elizabeth attorney Shaun Masimla’s claim that his disabled client Edison Cunningham had lent him a big chunk of his R3.53m settlement from the RAF. He has acknowledged that he still owes Cunningham and his wife Berenice some R1.3m.

Roberson said the Cunningham couple at the time desperately needed the money as both were unemployed and Edison had been incapacitated in a serious car accident.

“The payments from the [RAF] would have been their means of survival. It is simply not credible that people in their position would part with such a large amount of money.”

Masimla received large payments over some months from the RAF for the Cunningham couple. But instead of paying them out the money as it was received, or even accounting to them for the amounts, he doled out small amounts to them for living and other expenses over three years. Roberson said the only inference to be drawn from the interim payments was that he was using the money for his own purposes.

“He kept the Cunninghams on a string for three years with his false explanations about accounting to them when the matter was finalised. He exploited their trust and belief in him.”

This exploitation reached its peak when he persuaded a desperate Berenice to accept an acknowledgement of debt from him which excluded interest. She said this was grossly unethical.

Masimla had also stalled when contacted by the Law Society for an explanation.

He had dodged the issue for three months before claiming his office was broken into and his computers stolen.

He had also failed to account to the Law Society or the Cunninghams about how he had calculated his fees, said Roberson. At best, he had been dishonest to the Cunninghams and evasive to the Law Society.

She interdicted Masimla from practising pending the application to strike his name from the roll of attorneys.

Masimla is one of many lawyers who allegedly defraud their unsuspecting clients – mostly from poor backgrounds – and end up taking the lion’s share of their payout.