‘Mbeki paid for Zuma’s lawyers’

2013-08-25 14:00

Arms deal witnesses condemn state refusal to fund legal fees.

Former president Thabo Mbeki’s old Cabinet colleagues have rallied behind him, condemning the government’s decision not to pay for their legal representation before the arms deal commission.

Former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and Ronnie Kasrils, the former intelligence and deputy defence minister, who were instrumental in the arms deal, entered the fray this week and questioned why President Jacob Zuma would not authorise the payment of their private legal fees.

“Zuma was accused of corruption and required legal sponsorship from government for his defence.

He had the right to decide who would defend him.

Thabo (Mbeki) pushed for Zuma’s private legal fees to be paid by the state,” said Lekota, adding that he did not want to be represented by state attorneys.

This comes after lawyer Max Boqwana, who was representing Mbeki and other former Cabinet ministers, withdrew from the commission on the second day of the hearings this week, citing concerns over the payment of his legal fees.

Mbeki’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, told City Press on Friday the former president had not received any “formal communication” regarding whether the state would pay for his legal fees for private lawyers representing him at the commission.

But the justice department contradicted this, saying the minister of justice and constitutional development, Jeff Radebe, “called Mbeki directly” to address the issue.

Later on Friday, Radebe’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, told City Press that Radebe spoke to Mbeki on Thursday, the day Radebe announced at a press conference that Mbeki and other Cabinet members would be represented by a state attorney.

Kasrils also threw his weight behind Mbeki, saying government should afford them the right to choose private lawyers if they so wished.

“We’ve been called upon to help with this commission. This is related to the period when we were in Cabinet. If we wished to have private counsel to advise us on the proceedings, we must be able to do so, but we are being denied the right to do so,” said Kasrils.

Kasrils and Lekota expressed dismay at the manner in which the issue has been handled.

Mbeki, Kasrils, Lekota, former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin and former finance minister Trevor Manuel have been subpoenaed to testify on their roles in the multibillion-rand arms deal.

On Thursday, Radebe told reporters in Parliament that Mbeki and the former Cabinet members had the right to appoint private lawyers, but the state would not foot the bill.

Instead, Mbeki would have to be represented by the state attorney and a team to be used by government departments and former Cabinet ministers at the commission.

Lekota said it was unfair and a case of “unequal justice”.

He added: “If this administration says we did something wrong, we can’t still be represented by the same administration at the commission.”

The former ministers and Mbeki would not be drawn on whether they would fight to keep their own representation or use the attorneys provided by the state.

The commission’s spokesperson, William Baloyi, said regardless of whether witnesses have legal representation, they have been subpoenaed and need to appear before the commission.

“This (legal fees) matter has nothing to do with the commission. It’s a matter that Mbeki and government will have to sort out. We call upon a person implicated by others or by the information we have to clear their names,” said Baloyi.

Ratshitanga said Mbeki expected the matter to be addressed “as speedily as possible so that the commission’s work is not needlessly hampered”.

Mbeki and Manuel are scheduled to testify early next year while Lekota and Kasrils are due to testify in October. Erwin is expected to testify in November.

Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, disagreed with the former ministers. “There are no double standards here. Cabinet has taken this decision that state attorneys be used,” he said.

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