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“Brisbane barrister sought over $1m fraud”: That was the front page headline of an article that appeared in The Courier-Mail on Friday, 29 January 1988.
The story from Phil Dickie continued: “A BRISBANE barrister is being sought by police after defrauding banks, finance, legal and credit-card companies of more than $1 million.”
Now the disgraced barrister with a severe gambling addiction is wreaking havoc in Thailand through his involvement with the defence lawyers who acted for the Koh Tao defendants, Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin.
The expat barrister, Robert John Holmes 65 has taken a paltry 125,000 baht (approximately AUS$5,000.00) that was supposed to be used to pay the defence team to finally send a letter of complaint to a Thai Accreditation Body concerning the serious defects in the DNA evidence presented by a police laboratory to the Samui Provincial Court.
This and other conduct from Holmes is sure to be a major source of embarrassment for freelance journalist Andrew Drummond, British Human Rights activist Andy Hall and the defence team including Nadthasiri Bergman and her American husband, Jeffery.
Far more serious is the possible impact on the defendants who face the death penalty. Just like Judas, Robert Holmes has been prepared to betray the defendants and all his Bangkok “friends” and colleagues for a mere 20 pieces of silver.
According to Deputy Registrar Lucy Barnes of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Holmes was admitted as a barrister on 19 May 1986. The Courier-Mail understands that at least one barrister objected to his admission. It is tragic that the objection was not taken more seriously. It is after all most unusual for any barrister to make an objection to someone else’s admission and objections tend to be based on grounds of poor character.
Holmes wasted no time as a freshly minted barrister. It is believed that he began a crime spree in September 1986 just a few short months after his admission. The Courier-Mail stated that among the companies defrauded are Westpac, ANZ, and the Bank of Queensland. Macquarie Bank did not comment. Finance companies were also stung including Esanda, Hunter BNZ, Barclays, CUBE Finance and Convenient Finance.
The frauds were apparently committed in order to feed Holmes’ gambling addiction. A board member of the Queensland Bar Association recalls that Holmes was a high roller at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast.
Holmes is obviously a charming, clever and cunning man but apparently he was not smart enough to understand the simple mathematics that the odds in a casino are stacked against the gambler. In the Holmes saga, the only winner was the casino.
The Courier-Mail explains that Holmes’ technique seemed to have been “never to let a cheque settle without having another cheque on its way or an overdraft ready.”
Holmes made use of generous overdraft facilities and entered multiple lease-back arrangements with different financiers over the same property simultaneously. This property included a $40,000.00 law library.
On Christmas Eve 1987 “Holmes is believed to have taken more than $100,000.00 in a complicated sequence that included ‘round robin’ cheque deposits.” – The Courier-Mail. At the time, Holmes had the arrogance to write to several bank managers to Fwish them “Merry Christmas”.
Holmes then promptly fled Australia buying tickets to three international destinations on his credit cards.
Three years elapsed but Holmes was eventually deported from England on the weekend of 23 and 24 March 1991 and faced Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday, March 25 1991 whereupon he was remanded in custody.
He was finally convicted of fraud and served a term of imprisonment.
It is astonishing though that Holmes was never struck off the roll of the Supreme Court back in 1991. The Queensland Bar Association and the Queensland Legal Services Commission are now aware of this embarrassing oversight. Last week, a board member of the Bar Association said that Holmes should now be struck off the roll adding that the Bar was “derelict” in failing to move for him to be struck off following the convictions. He added that the Bar has an important role in protecting the public and not just its own reputation.
The frauds were bound to have had a devastating impact on the careers of many honest bank officers. They would have also affected the profitability of the banks and the dividends that can be paid to ordinary honest shareholders. In addition, it seems that Holmes’ frauds extended to at least one person who was very close to him showing that his only loyalty was to himself.
Robert Holmes and the Koh Tao defence team
Fast forward to 2014 – 2016 in Thailand.
On 15 September 2014, two British backpackers David Miller and Hannah Witheridge were murdered on the Thai island of Koh Tao.
Two young Burmese workers, Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin were charged with their murders but the overwhelming majority of observers believe they were being framed.
The British Human Rights activist, Andy Hall and seven Thai lawyers became involved in defending the two young men.
Robert Holmes provided advice on DNA evidence to the defence team and was copied into email correspondence passing between Melbourne DNA expert, Jane Taupin and Andy and the defence team.
It seems that Robert had been passing himself off as a highly experienced Australian barrister. Indeed, he has gone as far as to say in an email of 24 June 2016 to the moderator of the ThailandJustice.com website that he is “a leading Australian barrister”. This is an outrageous boast given that he practised as a barrister for only 18 months and appeared to have been preoccupied with his own frauds during that time.
It is widely regarded that the defence team performed extremely poorly during the 2015 trial and that they were grossly underprepared. It is also widely accepted that the senior members of the defence team blundered by failing to call Melbourne DNA expert, Jane Taupin to give evidence even though she had flown to Samui at the request of Andy Hall. It is not as widely known that two of the senior defence lawyers were exceptionally rude to Jane Taupin and showed no interest in learning about DNA.
On 24 December 2015 the Samui Provincial Court found the defendants guilty of rape and murder and sentenced them to death.
Following the judgment there was an international outcry with the decision but people also started to openly criticize the performance of the defence team. A reasonably vocal critic of the defence team was Robert Holmes himself via the media of Twitter, Facebook and emails.
Holmes came up with the ideas of having a letter of complaint written by Thai lawyers to a relevant body that oversees the accreditation of Thai laboratories. He also came up with the idea of having the defendants sue the Thai police laboratory in the Thai Administrative Court for producing a bogus report resulting in their convictions. Both were good ideas.
Holmes would brag that he was much smarter than the members of the Thai defence team and described them as having “vacuous minds”. To be fair he would also say that defence team members, Sana and Nadthasiri Bergman had a decent work ethic. He would add that he was friends with Nad and her “millionaire” American husband, Jeffery Bergman.
Holmes began making requests, apparently behind the backs of the defence team, for Westerners to provide him with funds so that he could hire a new team of Thai lawyers to write the letter and sue the police laboratory. Initially, nothing came of those requests.
At times Holmes would say that the leaders of the defence team had agreed to write the letter of complaint and perhaps to sue the police laboratory and then at other times he would say that he did not know why they were not taking action.
Holmes became a source of information for members of the Western media including the BBC and the freelance journalist Andrew Drummond who runs two notable websites Andrew-Drummond.com and Andrew-Drummond.news, which are blocked in Thailand. Andrew publishes many stories about conmen in Thailand, which is ironic since he describes Robert Holmes as a “personal friend.”
“BBC correspondent Jonathan Head confirmed that Holmes was a source – not of original material but said that Holmes simply shared his opinions on the case.”
On 5 February 2016 Holmes made a presentation to some of the members of the Thai defence team, Andy Hall and the Migrant Workers Rights Network about the defects with the prosecution DNA evidence. Andy Hall made a Facebook post about that meeting in which he said:
“Robert is a distinguished energetic and retired senior barrister from Australia living in Thailand. Robert has taken on a crucial role as liaising closely with the defense teams distinguished group of international forensic/DNA and legal defense experts overseas and presenting their input concisely to the legal defense team to use in the upcoming appeal as appropriate. We are all slowly becoming DNA experts and also learning a lot from Robert. Forever confident in our ability to overturn the conviction on appeal and deliver justice and strengthen the rule of law.”
Time dragged on. The defence team finally filed appeal papers on 23 May 2016 but no progress had been made with a letter of complaint or an action to sue the police laboratory.
On 1 June 2016 Robert Holmes sent the following email to Perth solicitor, Ian Yarwood:
I contacted Nakhon today. It’s as I expected…this is not being prioritised due to pressures from other work and lack of resourses. All of the material has to be translated into Thai and all of the relevant transcripts translated to English for APLAC
I offered 125,000 baht to get it done and to prioritize it.
As a result I received an undertaking that this would now be prioritised.
if you are happy to send me the money I will disburse.
I guess it goes to show…money talks
Holmes also said that it should take between two to three weeks for the letter to be drafted and sent.
The funds were sent to Holmes’ Bangkok bank account but there were continuing delays, which Holmes could not properly explain.
In the circumstances, on 24 June 2016 after three weeks had elapsed, Ian Yarwood sent a letter of complaint to the relevant Thai Accreditation Body, based in part upon a letter that Holmes had apparently drafted.
A few days later the Samui Times published this article:
Then on 1 July 2016 Andrew Drummond published the following story, apparently inspired by Robert Holmes, which was highly critical of the Samui Times and Ian Yarwood:
Since then the owner of the Samui Times, Su Buchanan and Ian Yarwood have both received considerable abusive messages from the “friends” and supporters of Robert Holmes, via email, social media and comments on the Samui Times.
As recently as Friday, 5 August 2016 Jeffery Bergman continued to confirm his friendship with Robert Holmes with the following email:
“Ian, As well as considering him a friend, my wife Nadthasiri and I have had several meetings with Robert over coffee, breakfast and lunch, and he attended a private New Years party at our riverside condo in Bangkok. I am confident you will find my response quite clear, Jeffery Bergman”
Andy Hall has not been quite as positive about Robert Holmes but he did choose to retweet one of Andrew Drummond’s tweets that linked to the critical story on Andrew-Drummond.com of 1 July 2016.
It should come as no surprise to learn that there has been no public comment from the defence team stating they have sent any letter of complaint to the Thai Accreditation Body. It should also come as no surprise that Robert Holmes: has not returned the funds despite multiple requests; has not replied to Ian Yarwood’s recent emails; and according to an indirect message, is now in Cambodia. There is no news on whether Robert Holmes has become a more successful gambler.