Evatt Tamine (Photograph by Dean Sewell, Sydney Morning Herald)
A lawyer accused of “wrongfully“ taking more than $28 million from a company linked to a Bermuda-based multibillion-dollar charitable trust has been ordered to pay it back.
Evatt Tamine denies any wrongdoing in relation to the funds he transferred from Spanish Steps Holdings Ltd but Chief Justice Narinder Hargun ruled he had given “entirely unconvincing” explanations for why he should be allowed to withdraw an agreement to repay them.
The island’s top judge criticised Mr Tamine for taking up “disproportionate use” of the court’s time with his “strategic manoeuvring” and said his submissions about his early employment here suggested he might have breached the Immigration Act.
Mr Tamine, an Australian who gained Bermudian status in 2017 through marriage, worked here for Texan billionaire Robert Brockman for many years, helping to manage a web of offshore entities linked to the A Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust.
In September 2018, his family’s Fairylands home was raided by police assisting the United States Department of Justice, which was investigating Mr Brockman for tax evasion.
Mr Tamine gained immunity from prosecution after agreeing to be a witness.
He gave evidence before a Grand Jury, which led to Mr Brockman, 80, being indicted on 39 criminal charges, including tax evasion, wire fraud and money laundering, in the largest-ever tax fraud prosecution brought against a person in the US.
Mr Brockman, the former chief executive officer of Reynolds & Reynolds, a car dealership software company, denies the allegations and a trial in Houston is pending.
Spanish Steps, along with a company which was the trustee of the Brockman Charitable Trust, launched civil proceedings against Mr Tamine and his Bermuda-based company, Tangarra Consultants, in 2018, regarding the transfers of $5.3 million, $16.9 million, and £5 million (about $6.1 million) from Spanish Steps between 2016 and 2018.
The Chief Justice’s ruling also reveals that Mr Tamine, in his defence to the proceedings, denied ‘allegations of breach of duty and dishonesty’ and later said, in his own words, that Mr Brockman continued to accuse him of theft and dishonesty when there was ‘no proper basis for doing so’.
Mr Justice Hargun entered a judgment in favour of Spanish Steps – a British Virgin Islands company set up in 1989 by Mr Brockman – in those amounts.
The Chief Justice, in his May 6 ruling, said Mr Tamine, having previously filed a defence in which he agreed to repay the money, later asked for permission to change the repayment proposal.
In a January 4, 2021 affidavit, Mr Tamine claimed he “initially decided to offer to repay all the money without prejudice to the fact that there had been no wrongdoing” because he did not have access at the time to records which would prove the “basis of the $5.395 million payment and the $16.8 million payment“.
He said he also hoped by agreeing to repay the money, “Mr Brockman and his associates would cease making offensive accusations against me. That has, regrettably, not been the case.”
Mr Justice Hargun said: “The court finds both of these explanations entirely unconvincing.
“ … it is incredible that someone in the position of Mr Tamine should admit liability and agreed to pay an amount in excess of $29 million unless he and his legal advisers genuinely believed that there was no reasonably arguable legal defence to the claim.”
The $5.395 million payment was in relation to Bewdley, a property on Richmond Road, Pembroke, owned by Mr Tamine’s wife Sophie Tod’s family through a trust.
Mr Tamine’s sworn evidence was that he and Mr Brockman agreed he would buy Bewdley, renovate it and then lease it to the company, which was the trustee of the Brockman Charitable Trust, for use as the trust headquarters.
He said the $5.395 million comprised of a loan of $2.495 million and money he was owed by Mr Brockman under his employment agreement. He claimed Mr Brockman agreed at a meeting in 2017 that the full amount had been repaid.
Mr Tamine, represented by local lawyer Paul Harshaw and British QC David Brownbill, also claimed Mr Brockman agreed to the $16.8 million payment during an August 2018 telephone call and that it was advance payment of six years worth of his salary, for lawful tax purposes, after he and his wife decided to move to England.
He said the £5 million was to cover his legal costs after the raid on his home and that a director of the trustee company, James Gilbert, authorised them.
But the Chief Justice rejected his evidence. The judge wrote: “A feature of this case which greatly concerns the court is that the proposed case which Mr Tamine seeks to advance in relation to the three payments and against Mr Brockman is entirely based upon his oral agreements with Mr Brockman, for which there is no documentation which memorialises those agreements.”
The judge said Mr Tamine’s recent submissions to the court included the assertion that while his work permit between 2004 and 2007 – before he married – was obtained by Tangarra, he was “in reality discharging his employment obligations to Mr Brockman …”
He said Mr Tamine and his lawyers appeared not to have “sufficiently taken into account” that such a claim may place Mr Tamine and Tangarra – which Mr Tamine wholly owns – in breach of the Immigration 1956 Act, for which he could be fined or jailed.
The judge said there was “strong evidence against” the new suggestion that Mr Tamine and Mr Brockman had a direct legal relationship of employer and employee.
He dismissed Mr Tamine’s application to enter an amended defence but gave him leave to pursue a counterclaim against Spanish Steps, which was represented by Keith Robinson.
Mr Robinson also represented BCT Ltd, the trustee of the Brockman Charitable Trust which, according to earlier court proceedings, has estimated assets of $6 billion.
The trustee was previously the St John’s Trust Company Ltd.
NB: This article was edited on May 25, 2022 to reflect that, according to the ruling, Mr Tamine referred in his affidavit evidence to allegations of theft and dishonesty made against him by the plaintiffs.
* To read the full judgement, click on the PDF under Related Media.