Lawyer who was locked up for a week sues police
A Sydney lawyer who spent a week in jail, lost half of his business and had his practising certificate almost torn up for charges that were eventually dropped will sue the NSW Police for malicious prosecution.
Marcel Joukhador was seen as a major scalp for Strike Force Ravens, a police task force that cracked down on the systemic rorting of compulsory third party insurance in NSW.
Such was the scale of the multimillion-dollar fraud, which involved lodging claims for minor injuries suffered in fake car accidents, that it was adding $75 to the CTP bills of law-abiding motorists.
Mr Joukhador, who runs a personal injury firm in Auburn, was swept up in the crackdown and charged with a string of fraud offences in 2017.
For the following six days he was locked in protective custody in Emu Plains jail wearing the same suit he went to work in on the morning of his arrest.
He was not allowed visitors or phone calls, he claims.
As word spread through the prison population about his status and his Coogee home, inmates began standing over him.
"Because it was reported I was worth millions in CTP fraud these prisoners thought I had cash," the 45-year-old said.
"A few did try and stand over me, saying give me a certain amount of money and I will offer you protection and I was scared.
"It was quite surreal, I just said no. I still couldn't believe I was there."
Even Finance Minister Victor Dominello weighed in on the CTP fraud arrests, referring to those targeted as cockroaches.
Mr Joukhador was eventually granted bail but his legal practising certificate was suspended and his reputation and client base took a big hit.
He turned to family to pay help foot legal bills of between $300,000 and $500,000.
Mr Joukhador had always proclaimed his innocence and last month he felt vindicated when he received a two line email from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
All charges had been withdrawn and Mr Joukhador was later awarded costs.
"The charges shouldn't have been brought, that is the issue," he said.
"I was happy if they were trying to find something they could look at whatever they wanted.
"But the charges shouldn't have been brought.
"It affects people's lives and it's one of those things where you don't know what it's like until it happens to you."
Now Mr Joukhador is preparing to sue NSW Police for malicious prosecution in a bid to "get some answers".
"That is what I need," he said.
"Why me? I don't know why I was targeted. Who was behind it all?"
Despite Mr Joukhador's case, Strike Force Ravens has been applauded for its success, not only in the conviction of dozens of people for rorting the system but in stemming the flood of fraudulent claims.
A consequence of the crackdown has been a decrease in the cost of green slips.
Mr Joukhador believes police wrongly associated his personal injury firm's "success" with the fraud.
"We spent years building up that practice through hard work and results and then bang, someone comes in and destroys it," he said.
It did not help that one of the allied health professionals also charged had assessed some of Mr Joukhador's clients for injuries sustained in car accidents.
Police had alleged in charging Mr Joukhador that he paid $2000 fees to the professional, who still has a matter before court, on behalf of clients but without their authorisation.
He denied the allegation and claimed authorisation was signed off.
Mr Joukhador conceded he referred some clients to the professional but was adamant every CTP claim he lodged was legitimate.
"They were my instructions," he said.
With his practising certificate reinstated, Mr Joukhador said he would continue working in personal injury law at his renamed firm.
A police spokeswoman said: "Detectives from the State Crime Command's Financial Crimes Squad attached to Strike Force Ravens have arrested 27 people and laid 187 charges in relation to a combined fraud of more than $14 million."