On the run – Absent businessman sentenced to jail for contempt
Mr Brooke, a 78 year old businessman, was sentenced to 21 months in prison in his absence in a decision handed down on 7 October 2016 for contempt of court after failing to attend a High Court hearing with litigation funder Therium Capital Management. It is understood that Mr Brooke left the UK back in April 2016 after Therium, which claimed it was due €4m (£3.8m) from him, launched legal proceedings in the Commercial Court.
By way of background, Mr Brooke was a shareholder in a company which successfully sued Dutch law firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek for professional negligence. In order to pursue the quantum stage of the claim, Mr Brooke needed litigation funding, and set up a new company called Cable Plus in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. He had agreed that in return for £1m in funding from Therium, he would pay the proceeds of successful litigation into the client account of his London law firm, Kemp Little. Though he had hoped for €28 million, he was awarded €3.4m by a Dutch court last summer, and a further €400,000 through a subsequent settlement. His settlement therefore did not even cover the money owed to Therium.
Mr Brooke was “disappointed and dissatisfied” by the amount awarded and as a result “secretly arranged” for the claim proceeds to be sent to Curacao, “even though he knew that he was not entitled to do so”. Following this, Mr Brooke “persistently failed, despite repeated requests” to tell Therium what had happened to the money and it only became known when he was ordered to do so by the court.
Mr Brooke did not attend the High Court hearing in August 2016 and instead sent an email on the eve of the hearing saying he was “unable to travel to attend for medical reasons”. Whilst sentencing Mr Brooke in his absence, the Judge referred to an article in The Sunday Times newspaper published in September this year which was accompanied by an image of Mr Brooke “apparently in good health”, and was evidence that he had “lied to the court about being medically unfit to attend” court.
Further, the Judge found in his judgment that the contempt was “aggravated by the lack of remorse and the public defiance”. This was again highlighted in The Sunday Times article, in which Mr Brooke openly admitted his intention of keeping out of the reach of Therium by moving regularly “from country to country, from rented flat to rented flat”.
The Judge set out that the most serious of the contempts committed by Mr Brooke were that Mr Brooke had caused the claim funds to be transferred out of an account in the island of Curaçao, failed to ensure that Cable Plus paid those proceeds into court, and failed to tell Therium where the proceeds were.
As it stands, Mr Brooke remains on the run and it is unlikely that Therium will see their money any time soon. It will be interesting to see how this case is concluded given the significant increase in third party funding in recent years and the effect a case like this will have on third party funders.