News24

Zuma's legal fees cost SA R5m

2010-03-23 17:01

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma's legal fees came to roughly R5m in the year before he was elected, his office told Parliament's public accounts committee (Scopa) on Tuesday.

"There were unavoidable legal fees of R5m, approximately, for the current president," Jessie Duarte, the chief operations officer in the presidency, told MPs who grilled presidential staff over the office's qualified audit for 2008/09.

The presidency's chief financial officer, Bahumi Matebisi, said she could not give a breakdown of how the money was spent.

It is believed to have paid for the lawyers who acted for Zuma while he battled fraud and corruption charges.

"I don't have the reconciliation for the total amount," she said.

One week deadline

Charges against Zuma relating in part to the country's multi-billion rand arms deal were reinstated in December 2007 and dropped on the eve of the April 2009 elections, paving the way for him to become president.

Scopa chairperson Themba Godi requested the presidency to supply the breakdown of Zuma's legal costs to the committee within a week.

He reminded opposition MPs who objected to the cost to the taxpayer that it is policy that the state pays for the legal defence of officials who face charges. If they lose the case, however, they are obliged to refund the cost.

Other lawsuits

The presidency's annual report reflected legal costs of R10.1m for the last financial year, compared to R445 000 for 2007/08.

Duarte said the rest of the amount related to other lawsuits, including those brought by an Italian company involved in mining in Limpopo and by farmers who fell victim to stock theft on the Lesotho border.

In both cases the president was named as first respondent.

"There is a trend that the presidency has become the first respondent in a number of cases," she said.