Ex-solicitor “tried to fraudulently extract money” from escrow account

Norwich County Court: Whiston-Dew tried to recover money

A disgraced struck-off solicitor has made a “concerted effort” to fraudulently obtain judgment from two courts in a bid to extract money to which he is not entitled, the senior King’s Bench master has ruled.

Senior Master Fontaine said Rodney Whiston-Dew also appeared to be behind false allegations that a licensed insolvency practitioner and his solicitor had acted fraudulently.

Mr Whiston-Dew was jailed for 10 years in November 2017 for his part in a crime gang which committed a massive tax fraud. He was convicted of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and cheating the public revenue.

He was struck off, while proclaiming his innocence, in 2019.

According to Master Fontaine, he was released last December but may yet return to jail for non-payment of a £3m criminal confiscation order.

In the case before her, she granted a declaration to Jonathan Sinclair as liquidator of Judmick Estates Ltd that neither Mr Whiston-Dew nor a company called Churwitz Stanford AG Holdings Ltd had any right to £275,000 sitting in an escrow account.

Judmick was put into liquidation in 2011 after selling a property for £435,000. It emerged that 60% of the shares in Judmick’s parent company were held by a group, including Mr Whiston-Dew, who were facing prosecution at the time.

The £275,000 was placed in an escrow account at the request of the Crown Prosecution Service pending the prosecution as the possible proceeds of crime. It was subject to an undertaking given by Mr Harris’s solicitor, David Middleburgh, now of Setfords.

It has since been agreed that the money should be split 70/30 between Mr Whiston-Dew’s bankrupt estate and Judmick.

Master Fontaine recorded that Mr Whiston-Dew had separately tried to recover funds from Mr Sinclair through claims at Norwich County Court and in the High Court, which involved Churwitz as the alleged holder of the promissory note from him.

She said that all three of the designated civil judge at Norwich, Master Sullivan and herself had concluded that the proceedings issued in both courts were “part of a concerted effort” by Mr Whiston-Dew “to carry out a fraud”.

She said neither Mr Whiston-Dew nor Churwitz had “any basis for any claim against the escrow sum”.

The judge went on: “The claimant also adduced evidence of articles published on the internet that alleged that the claimant and his solicitor had acted fraudulently, had stolen the escrow sum and had engaged in criminality.”

These all came from a website called ‘Financial Fraudsters News’, whose registered address in the Cayman Islands was the same as that of Churwitz.

Mr Sinclair asked the court to draw an inference that Mr Whiston-Dew and Churwitz – of which the former solicitor “appears to be the controlling mind” – have some involvement in the articles and that Mr Whiston-Dew was likely also to be the controlling mind of Financial Fraudsters News.

He told the court that these articles had lost him business and been brought to the attention of his professional organisation, the Insolvency Practitioners Association, and caused “similar professional embarrassment” to Mr Middleburgh and his firm.

The court heard that Google has refused to remove the articles.

Master Fontaine concluded: “The likely involvement of the defendants in such publications are supported by the conclusions that I and other judges have come to that both defendants have acted fraudulently in both the Norwich County Court proceedings.

“Further, it is apparent that the fraud sought to be perpetrated was designed to obtain a judgment against the claimant and his solicitor to enable the first defendant to obtain funds held as part of the escrow sum, to which he had no entitlement. The publications all relate to that issue.

“I make it clear that there is no evidence before this court that either the claimant, nor his solicitor Mr Middleburgh, or his firm, Setfords, have acted in any way improperly and I confirm that they have carried out their duties of officers of the court entirely appropriately.”

The website of Mr Sinclair’s firm, Sinclair Harris, has a section specifically countering the allegations made against him and Mr Middleburgh.

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