The High Court has lifted a £1.6m freezing order against a solicitor after declaring that it was based ‘on the flimsiest foundations’.
The Honourable Mr Justice Roth lifted an order made in August against Stephen Goldberg following claims relating to seven-figure financial transactions by investors Anglo Financial and Fortis Business Holdings.
Goldberg, a partner with City firm Goldberg Linde, had advised on loans from Anglo totalling £2.4m to two different borrowers.
The solicitor, along with his business partner Carl Linde and one other person, was a signatory on the debts and had agreed not to authorise the withdrawal or transfer of any money before it had been repaid in full.
On the maturity date, both the specified bank accounts were empty – leading to the allegation that withdrawals must have been authorised by at least one of the signatories.
A second claimant, Fortis, had agreed to invest almost £3.3m in a mining operation in Rwanda. It later emerged the entire transaction was a fraud, and Fortis alleged a breach of fiduciary duty on the part of Goldberg for his response to the discovery.
Roth said it was down to the claimants to prove a good arguable case against Goldberg and a real risk of dissipation of his assets if the court was to grant an extended freezing order.
The judge, sitting in the chancery division of the High Court, said Anglo had already recovered £4.5m from Linde and that interest had been pleaded in an ‘exaggerated amount’.
‘Although I accept that Anglo has an arguable case, I am not satisfied that it has a good arguable case to recover monies from Mr Goldberg,’ added Roth.
On the Fortis case, the judge stated that the claimant knew about the fraud before the loss was incurred and was expecting a ‘considerable extension’ of Goldberg’s duty or retainer.
The court heard that Goldberg had been in negotiations with the claimants for around four years and had ‘ample opportunity’ to spirit away or conceal assets in that time. Roth said if a freezing order really was necessary it would have been applied for earlier.
The claimants’ argument that Goldberg could easily leave the jurisdiction for Israel was also dismissed.
‘On the evidence before the court, there is no basis to find that there is, objectively viewed, a real risk of dissipation of assets by Mr Goldberg in the absence of a freezing order,’ added Roth.
As a postscript, the judge noted there was ‘nothing particularly urgent’ about the application and ‘no reason’ why it could not have been heard later than August.
Goldberg ceased to trade as Goldberg Linde and practised thereafter as Fidex Law. He now works in-house for his family’s company, Northern & Midland Holdings Ltd, engaged in property investments.