Belfast claimants set to recoup £750,000 from Italian lawyers

A Belfast court is expected to enter judgment tomorrow (28 February) against Italian lawyer Gabriele Giambrone, who has been accused of misinforming his clients over property investments they made in Italy.

Giambrone admitted liability earlier this month in a case brought by 13 Northern Irish investors in southern Italy property development El Caribe, on which Giambrone provided conveyancing advice. Last week Mr Justice Weatherup ruled that the claimants would be awarded damages of £750,000 plus costs after deciding that they would receive 4 per cent interest on the investments they had made.

The court is due to enter judgment against Giambrone in the El Caribe case, but a separate action brought by 61 investors in another development, the Jewel of the Sea in Calabria, is still being contested.

Simon Chambers, a lawyer at Belfast firm Russell & Company, said he had been representing Giambrone clients for five years in their efforts to recoup lost investments.

The claimants allege that Giambrone failed to advise them correctly, that client money had been passed to a third party without the clients’ authority, and that Giambrone was operating under a conflict of interest.

Chambers said the El Caribe development had never received planning permission and remained unbuilt, while the Jewel of the Sea development was unfinished several years after it was due to be completed.

He said the claimants had applied for Mareva injunctions against Giambrone in both cases last week (22 February) in order to prevent the dissipation of money intended to pay the damages.

A spokesperson for Giambrone Law said in a statement: “Due to internal administrative problems, and despite strenuous efforts to rectify the situation, some of the detailed procedural aspects of the property purchases relating to the El Caribe development were not handled correctly. We acknowledge that the quality of service was not of a standard we consider to be acceptable, and that is something we regret, which is why we have agreed to settle with the claimants. However, it should not be inferred from the fact that we have settled that we accepted all of the claimants’ arguments.

“We also want to be very clear that the lapse in procedures was strictly limited to work undertaken on El Caribe. We would like to emphasise that we acted for the potential buyers in the El Caribe development in good faith, and that it was the claimants’ own decision not to recover their deposits from the developers through Italian law. Since the events referred to in this case, the firm has completely overhauled its procedures.”

A number of investors who purchased properties in the Jewel of Sea development are understood to have been able to move in.

RPC partner Will Sefton has instructed the Belfast office of Irish firm Arthur Cox as Northern Irish agents for Giambrone and his insurers. Patrick Good QC and Keith Gibson are counsel for the defendants.

Meanwhile, Chambers instructed Frank O’Donoghue QC and Peter Girvan for the claimants in both cases.

Giambrone is also understood to be facing similar claims in London. Claims brought by British investors in the El Caribe development settled some time ago, the firm’s spokesperson said.

Earlier this month (7 February 2013) the SDT removed Giambrone from its register of foreign lawyers after finding that he had breached the code of conduct and accounts rules. The full reasons for the decision are yet to be released.