Self-declared asset protection ‘authority’ Dominique Grubisa has found support close to home in her battle with the ACCC.
IN DECEMBER we reported that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commenced legal proceedings against Dominique Grubisa and her company Master Wealth Control Pty Ltd trading as DG Institute (MWC) in the Federal Court alleging misleading and deceptive conduct. The proceedings relate to the Real Estate Rescue and asset protection “product” sold by MWC and promoted by Grubisa.
After a brief hiatus this month during which the asset protection product was taken down from the DG Institute website, Grubisa has been back at it again promoting an asset protection webinar held on 18 February.
The advertising claimed that viewers would learn “how to instantly quarantine their family home and assets” and “how to secure [their] finances and maintain control”. In the video that accompanied the pitch, Grubisa claimed to have helped thousands of people safeguard their wealth and investments.
“We allege that students of DG Institute could have faced significant financial harm by relying on the advice of, and using material provided by DG Institute and Ms Grubisa, to set up what was represented to be a Vestey Trust which would completely protect their assets when that was not the case.”
Ms Rickard left the ACCC in January of this year after more than a decade with the Commission. Her contribution was recognised with high praise by the Assistant Treasurer, the Honourable Stephen Jones MP. Last year Ms Rickard was the inaugural winner of the Law Council of Australia’s Consumer Rights Award and in 2011 was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in the development of consumer protection for financial services.
On 14 February, a notice of legal representation was filed in the Federal Court on behalf of Grubisa and MWC in relation to the ACCC proceedings.
Who does Grubisa have representing her? None other than Assure Lawyers, the incorporated law firm formerly known as DGI Lawyers. Grubisa was the sole director of the company from its incorporation in July 2017 until solicitor Zeeshaan Nordien became a director of the company in August 2021. He became the sole director when Grubisa resigned in May last year. Nordien is a 50% shareholder with DGI Holdings Pty Ltd (a company controlled by Grubisa’s husband, Kevin) holding the other 50% of shares.
The fact that Assure Lawyers is representing Grubisa and MWC is interesting in a number of respects.
First, it suggests Grubisa has not sought to rely on, or perhaps is not covered by, professional indemnity insurance in relation to the ACCC’s claim. If there were professional indemnity insurers involved, we expect they would have required one of their panel firms to run the case and not Assure Lawyers.
MWC is not a law firm. Concerns that Grubisa was selling her asset protection product through that company were raised with The Law Society of New South Wales in April 2019. Four presidents of The Law Society have since come and gone. The French have gone a long way to restoring Notre Dame de Paris in that time! Grubisa is still at it.
The Law Society of New South Wales notes on its website that [IA emphasis]:
'Unqualified practice exposes the public to the risk of poor legal advice, representation, deception and obtaining professional services from uninsured entities.'
So why haven't they intervened?
MWC’s latest pitch contains a disclaimer in small print at the bottom.
'Dominique Grubisa and her trading company Master Wealth Control Pty Ltd… provide general advice and for educational purposes only. Neither Dominique Grubisa nor MWC are practising lawyers, financial advisors or accountants.'
However, as we have reported extensively, Grubisa makes extraordinary claims in her webinars and tells prospective clients they provide a tailor-made bespoke security system “built from the ground up” and a “written plan of attack for how the security system is going to fit around you and protect your assets”. Grubisa moved on from her claims about her impenetrable Vestey Trust.
Is it “general advice” and “for educational purposes” for Grubisa to claim that:
- her “system” “protects [the client’s] worldwide wealth”; or
- that once the client signs the documents the client can be “secure in the fact that [they] can’t go backwards"
or to make any of the other claims made in a recent webinar as reported in our story of 13 January?
We are far from Robinson Crusoe in wondering how this is allowed to go on.
'Yet the response from The Law Society of New South Wales has been, er, crickets.'
February this year, Mason penned another article for the Financial Review titled: 'Grubisa won’t stop ‘til somebody makes her.'
As we reported more than two years ago, Grubisa told The Law Society of NSW that the asset protection product was “not a product or service provided by her or DGI Lawyers as legal representatives”. This is at odds with statements made to potential clients who were told it was a “done-for-you lifetime legal service”. It’s also at odds with Grubisa’s claims made in numerous webinars as we reported in May 2021.
There are other very significant issues relating to Grubisa/MWC being represented by Assure Lawyers.
As part of the asset protection product, MWC/Grubisa offers a 33% discount on the supposed standard conveyancing fees charged by Assure Lawyers.
MWC also offers free consultations with Assure Lawyers as part of the product.
The MWC product terms and conditions include the following statement:
'The MWC Customer acknowledges that a Nominated Firm [Assure Lawyers] may benefit from offering an Initial Consultation, being an opportunity to determine if the MWC Customer may require further or future services from the Nominated Firm.'
The offer of free consultations is openly a way to drum up future business for Assure Lawyers from clients of MWC.
As we reported in November, MWC’s terms prohibit these consultations from covering the asset protection documents or disputes or matters that directly or indirectly involve MWC, its associated entities, directors, agents and/or employees.
Assure Lawyers, of course, can’t involve itself in any conflict of interest between two clients of the firm. Grubisa doesn’t want Assure Lawyers giving advice regarding her asset protection product or Assure Lawyers getting involved with any dispute between her and her clients.
Which raises a very fundamental question. Who is it that provides legal advice to clients of MWC? Who is it that drafts the testamentary trust that forms part of the package? Who is responsible for the advice in relation to the “plan of attack” and the claims that clients can “instantly quarantine” their assets? Is that advice backed by professional indemnity insurance or not?
Grubisa is not a practising lawyer nor is she a director of Assure Lawyers or even a shareholder. Who exactly is running the show at Assure Lawyers? Nordien or Grubisa?
These are not questions that should remain unresolved when the ACCC speaks of the risk of significant financial harm. Nor when the ATO refers to compliance risks in relation to dodgy advice given by MWC / Grubisa in relation to superannuation. Especially when Grubisa believes she is unstoppable.
MWC’s product terms and conditions also state that MWC 'may engage professionals to provide certain services, which will be provided on behalf of [MWC] and will not create a client relationship with the Customer and the professional unless you engage them directly'.
This means that if Assure Lawyers drafts legal documents for you and provides you with advice, you don’t have a client relationship with them and according to Grubisa, the services are provided on behalf of MWC.
What an absolute mess!
One thing is very clear. Assure Lawyers has a dependent relationship with Grubisa and MWC. Not only does Assure Lawyers have its office in the premises of DG Institute, in St Martin’s Tower in Sydney, but it also shares the same post office box.
Nordien’s LinkedIn profile looks quite different these days from how it looked a couple of years ago. These days Nordien has no reference to employment with DG Institute, claiming to be an employed solicitor with Assured Lawyers since August 2020 and then principal of the firm since August 2021.
In June 2021, Nordien’s Linkedin profile told a very different story, with him claiming to be “head of legal” at DG Institute — in other words, an in-house lawyer.
Assure Lawyers relies upon referrals from MWC for its work. No doubt many (if not most or almost all) of its clients are people referred by MWC and/or Grubisa. Most of them are people who have signed up for the Real Estate Rescue program or the asset protection product. Dare we suggest that the financial viability of Assure Lawyers relies heavily if not almost entirely upon referrals from Grubisa’s business?
'The risk of a conflict of interest can arise in some arrangements where lawyers have a relationship with a party from which they receive regular client referrals. The extent of this conflict of interest and associated risks and potential harm, have not, to date, been fully appreciated by the profession, the ethics literature or regulators.'
The article went on to refer to the Senate committee report of the Scrutiny of Financial Advice inquiry into land banking schemes.
The committee noted [in section 5.21 of its report] that:
'A common thread running through the land banking schemes investigated by the committee was that the promoters of the schemes referred investors to lawyers, accountants and lenders with whom they had a potential conflict of interest because of their pre-existing (and often intertwined) business relationships'.
Grubisa / MWC and the business of Assure Lawyers are obviously deeply intertwined.
Which brings us to this fascinating point: Not only is the ACCC seeking declarations, injunctions, penalties and an order banning Grubisa from managing corporations for a period the Federal Court considers appropriate, but they are also seeking “non-party consumer redress orders” against MWC under section 239 of the Australian Consumer Law.
This is essentially the ACCC asking the Court to make orders compensating clients of MWC in relation to the alleged false or misleading representations. No doubt many of those who the ACCC is seeking to be compensated are clients / have been clients of Assure Lawyers or DGI Lawyers as it was formerly called.
Quite the ethical conundrum.
- 'Robin Hood' Grubisa rolls on with rotten real estate advice
- Dominique Grubisa stashing money as regulators close in
- Despite legal proceedings, Dominique Grubisa thinks she's unstoppable
- Tax Office warns Grubisa's superannuation advice not so super
- Dominique Grubisa — now it's a conspiracy of 'the system'
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