The Court of Appeal has ruled that a law firm director should be liable for providing dishonest assistance in what became an £86m fraud.
Judges concluded that Martin Landman, an accountant and member of London firm Notable Services LLP, had been wrongly acquitted by the High Court of dishonestly assisting the breaches of trust and fiduciary duty.
The appeal court in LLB Verwaltung (Switzerland) AG v Group Seven Ltd & Ors heard that Landman arranged for what claimant lawyers called a ‘£170,000 bribe’ to be paid to a Panamanian company. This payment was made on his instructions and was effectively his ‘personal fee’, dishonestly concealed from other members of the firm, for helping one of the fraudsters to use Notable’s client account to make dozens of other payments.
In the High Court, Mr Justice Morgan said the question was whether what Landman dishonestly did was to assist a breach of trust, when he did not have the relevant knowledge as to there being a breach of trust. The judge opted not to extend the basis of liability of a breach of trust to hold him liable.
In their joint judgment, Lord Justice Henderson, Lord Justice Peter Jackson and Lady Justice Asplin said the logic of the judge’s position on Landman receiving the money was that he was guilty of dishonest assistance.
They said: ‘Mr Landman is condemned by his own actions, which speak for themselves. Had he been acting honestly, he would not have negotiated the £170,000 bribe… nor would he have taken steps to conceal it from his colleagues.’
They added: ‘Mr Landman must have had blind-eye knowledge that the €100m was not beneficially owned by [the fraudster’s company], and that the money was not at [its] free disposal.
‘The judge’s undisputed primary findings create an irresistible inference that Mr Landman clearly suspected (if indeed he did not actually know) that the money was not [the company’s], and that he consciously decided to refrain from taking any step to confirm the true state of affairs for fear of what he might discover.’
As a result of police intervention, most of the money has been returned to the victim, but the claimants seek the £10m still not recovered.
The judges allowed the claimants’ appeal in relation to the liability of Notable, which entered administration in 2017, and Landman for dishonest assistance, and invited counsel to submit a draft of the necessary orders.