The boss of Blavo & Co – the major legal aid firm found by the High Court to have made fraudulent claims on public funds – will finally face the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) this month.
John Blavo – who was the sole shareholder, senior partner and compliance officer – faces three allegations at the three-day hearing starting on 13 March.
The 18-office firm, which the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) closed in October 2015 on the grounds of suspected dishonesty shortly after its legal aid contracts were terminated, employed 200 staff and had contracts with 150 consultants.
A Legal Aid Agency (LAA) investigation identified 24,658 cases in which the law firm had claimed fees for mental health tribunal hearings between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2015.
However, it found that a hearing had been held in only 1,485 of them.
In December 2018, the High Court ruled on the balance of probabilities that the practice of making fraudulent legal aid claims was “endemic” at Blavo & Co, which at its height was one of the largest legal aid firms in the country.
Mr Justice Pepperall ruled Mr Blavo, who set up the firm in 1997, was liable to repay £22.1m in claims for the thousands of cases which never took place.
A couple of months earlier, the Court of Appeal had allowed the SRA to try and recover the £800,000 it spent intervening in Blavo & Co.
The charges he will face this month all concern allegations that he provided, or facilitated and/or encouraged, the creation of falsified documents, such client files, medical reports and tribunal decisions, in relation to alleged clients of the firm.
The civil standard of proof will again apply and the allegations are as yet unproven.
The decision to prosecute was made as long ago as December 2018 but has only just been published. Legal Futures understands that the delay was caused in part by further investigations that have taken place since based on new information.
According to the most recent report by Blavo & Co’s liquidator, the firm has 375 unsecured creditors owed £37m – and they are unlikely to receive a penny.
The liquidator is trying to recover £4.3m Mr Blavo took out of the company from his bankruptcy estate.
The Daily Mail has in the past described Mr Blavo and his wife’s “extravagant lifestyle, which included the grand period house in St Albans, with indoor cinema and covered swimming pool in the grounds, a string of properties around the world, meals at Mayfair restaurants, lavish parties (at the Tower of London, City Hall and top hotels) and supercars on the drive: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Maseratis”.
The Times reported that he had claimed to have eight properties, including in Cyprus, Marbella and his native Ghana.
Though the police have investigated, it is not currently known whether Mr Blavo faces criminal proceedings.
He also had a profile acting as an agent for footballers, including Ghanaian internationals playing in the Premier League.