Boris Becker facing jail for hiding evidence

by Martin Malone

It is vital in legal proceedings that parties provide full disclosure of all relevant documents, even if they harm their case. That is particularly applicable in insolvency cases. In the event of bankruptcy, the bankrupt person must, understandably, provide a sworn statement that they have disclosed all of their assets.

Tennis star Boris Becker is facing a jail sentence of up to seven years after being accused of failing to do so following his bankruptcy in 2017. As reported in The Times he appeared in court on 24 September to face 19 criminal charges in a case brought by the Insolvency Service.

It is alleged that he concealed three bank accounts with J P Morgan in Belgium, as well as one in Germany and another in Guernsey. The charges claim that he concealed over £1m from his trustees in bankruptcy, removing property including €870,000, failing to disclose two properties in Germany and a flat in Chelsea. He is also accused of concealing a debt of €825,000 and 75,000 shares in a company.

Chief magistrate Lady Arbuthnot refused a request to keep his address in London secret. She said that she had grave reservations about granting him bail, suggesting that he should be tagged and required to remain in London unless a friend provided security of more than £100,000.

In the event he was released on bail with a requirement that his lawyers keep his passport, save for when he is travelling for commentating duties. He is next due in court on 22 October.

The high profile case, somewhat lost in the current news, demonstrates the severe consequences that can follow when people think that they can conceal information in legal proceedings. While Mr Becker has not been found guilty, the ongoing case is a stark reminder of the potentially serious implications that can arise in such circumstances.

In civil proceedings, Part 36 of the Civil Procedure Rules requires that a party must, with a statement of truth, disclose the documents on which he or she relies, together with documents which adversely affect his or her or another party’s case, support another party’s case and any further documents that may be required by a relevant practice direction.

In ancillary relief proceedings the parties have a duty to provide details about their financial circumstances (usually provided in a document called Form E). In cases where there are concerns that disclosure is incomplete the court has the power to grant what older lawyers like me call Mareva injunctions (freezing assets such as bank accounts) and Anton Piller orders (allowing for the search and seizure of assets). These powers are also used in commercial litigation and employment cases.

I remember a case I was dealing with in which one such order was carried out at a house in Wirral at 7.00 a.m. one weekday morning. It’s quite a dramatic step and certainly took the recipient of the order by surprise. It’s not widely known that such orders can be implemented in civil proceedings and they are fairly rare, not least because the process involved is very expensive. However, it should operate as a reminder that seeking to conceal evidence can have very disruptive and damaging consequences, as Mr Becker, if convicted, might be about to discover.