By Zeb Holmes and Ugur Nedim
Marcel Joukhador was admitted as a NSW lawyer on 14th July 2000. He was later employed for several years as a solicitor with Thomas Booler Lawyers.
On 4th March 2010 while still employed at the firm, Mr Joukhdor was formally reprimanded by the Council of the Law Society of NSW for:
- “Unethical conduct” – improperly sending accounts and unreasonably demanding payment of costs;
- “Communicating directly with the complainant’s solicitor’s client”, and
- “Failing to respond to the complainant’s solicitor’s requests”.
More than seven years on, police have arrested Mr Joukhador and accused him of ten counts of fraud and one of directing a criminal group. The charges relate to allegations he knowingly assisted people to make false insurance claims and then fleeced the claimants of a portion of their insurance payouts.
It is alleged Mr Joukhador, with the help of favourable reports from former Bankstown physiotherapist Mohammad Ali Mahmoud Sallam and another health professional, submitted millions of dollars of false compulsory third party (CTP) claims, then deducted thousands of dollars from settlement monies received on behalf of the false claimants without their knowledge or authority.
Police papers allege that the enterprise operated from 2014 to 2017, involved many victims, and acted as a one-stop-shop for those prepared to make false CTP insurance claims.
According to police, Mr Joukhador and his cohorts assisted in the staging of accidents before preparing and submitting false insurance claims, medical certificates and reports whilst coaching claimants on the process.
Breadth of syndicate
Police Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis described the scope of the alleged scheme:
“Not only do you have legal professionals, allied health professionals, you’ve got the key organisers of that group and then you’ve got the participants who have been used to stage fake motor vehicle accidents, fake injuries and then receive the requisite legal advice from those professionals as to how to get around the system,”.
Nature of claims and methods used
The alleged fraud is said to have included claims on behalf of babies as young as six-months old and those in respect of severe psychiatric injuries
The scheme is said to have often involved slow impact collisions which caused only minor damage to vehicles, for which no police or ambulance were required. The person allegedly injured would then attend a general practitioner at the direction of the lawyer, before being referred to a mental health professional and specialist involved in the enterprise.
Another method allegedly employed was for two parties to stage a collision with no person inside the vehicle, or even falsely claim there was a collision when in fact there was none, then sell or junk the cars and use one another to corroborate the claims.
Police strike force
Strike Force Ravens was established by NSW police in August 2016 with a view to cracking down on compulsory third party fraud.
The operation is reported to have uncovered $11 million fraudulent activity to date, leading to 16 arrests and 120 charges.
“The arrests are a significant milestone for the investigation and a warning that we will arrest anyone who intends to make fraudulent CTP claims,” Detective Katsogiannis said. “Given Strike Force Ravens’ success, we will be continuing investigations into the activities that impact on the cost of CTP Green Slips — a cost that is passed on to all NSW drivers.”
Fall in claims
Since the operation commenced, there has been a 25 per cent reduction in claims for soft tissue injuries in motor vehicle accidents. Police are attributing the fall to the presence and activities of the strike force.
“Never before, since the introduction of the CTP scheme, has there ever been a reduction, it’s always been an accelerated increase in claims,” Mr Katsogiannis said.
The strike force was set up following recommendations of the NSW CTP Taskforce, which included representatives from the legal and health professions, and the insurance industry.
While police are targeting the alleged figureheads of criminal organisations, they have foreshadowed potential fraud charges against the claimants themselves.
Section 192E of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 contains the general offence of fraud, which makes it a crime to dishonestly, by any deception, obtain:
- Property belonging to another, or
- A financial advantage from, or cause a financial disadvantage to, another.
The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment.
‘Deception’ is defined by section 192B as ‘any deception, by words or conduct, as to fact or as to law’, and must be intentional or reckless.
In addition, section 117 of the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999 (NSW) contains the offence of false claims, which prescribes a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500 for anyone who “makes a statement knowing that it is false or misleading in a material particular” in relation to a motor insurance claim.
It is currently estimated that between 8 and 9 per cent of all insurance claims are fraudulent, which, if accurate, costs Australians more than $2 billion every year. The NSW government estimates that insurance fraud in the community adds $75 to each individual CTP premium.