A Melbourne couple has been charged with 14 counts each of obtaining financial advantage by deception, for allegedly setting up a law firm in order to defraud more than $17 million from an insurance company.
Claims manager Josie Gonzales and her husband Alvaro are standing trial in Victoria's County Court for allegedly defrauding underwriting agency DUAL Australia, with each pleading not guilty to the charges, between March 2011 and April 2013.
The court heard on Wednesday that the couple set up Jaag Lawyers to defraud DUAL, shortly after Josie Gonzalez was hired by the underwriter to manage its insurance claims, AAP reported.
“One of the reasons it (Jaag) was set up, if not the sole reason, was to be involved in this alleged fraud,” Prosecutor Andrew Grant said.
The couple wrote up invoices for legal services purportedly provided to DUALl, which were then sent to Gonzalez to approve under the names of legitimate clients. The agency was then unaware that the couple were involved in Jaag until the alleged fraud was uncovered.
“At no time was Jaag Lawyers employed directly or indirectly to provide work for DUAL,” Grant said. “The invoices were false invoices.”
Grant said Jaag received more than $17.4 million in payments from DUAL when the alleged fraud was uncovered – part of which was allegedly used by Alvaro Gonzalez to buy a $4.4 million house in the exclusive suburb of Kew. The property was not mortgaged.
In a subsequent civil settlement with DUAL, Grant said the couple agreed to repay more than $15.8 million, AAP said.
“It's a pretty powerful piece of evidence,” Grant said.
Peter Kilduff, Alvaro Gonzalez’s barrister, said his client was not aware of, and did not create fake invoices for DUAL. He also denied Jaaq was established for defrauding DUAL.
The trial is still ongoing, AAP said.