Justice dept paid 'preposterous' fees for legal opinion on possible pardon for King Dalindyebo

2019-05-02 15:03
King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. (File, Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. (File, Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

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The Department of Justice has refused to comment on fees paid to the junior counsel it solicited through the Office of the State Attorney to work on abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo's presidential pardon.

Legal opinions sourced by News24 suggest that the lawyer who briefed Justice Minister Michael Masutha on the pardon, charged excessive amounts for very little work.

Ramaphosa has faced mounting pressure by the monarch and the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) to release Dalindyebo.

As a result, the Department of Justice, through the Office of the State Attorney, solicited the services of an ex-department of spokesperson, and now private advocate, Mthunzi Mhaga.

Mhaga was to brief Masutha on the pardon.

Mhaga charged R191 596 for two months work, but the problem lies in what he charged for.

READ: Former justice spokesperson paid nearly R200K to help King Dalindyebo apply for presidential pardon

'Outrageous'

News24 approached a senior counsel member of the Bar with over two decades of experience, another senior counsel member with a background in legal ethics, and an advocate with expertise in presidential pardons. They assessed Mhagas invoices to the Office of the State Attorney independently of each other.

While they said Mhaga's hourly and daily rates were normal for a junior advocate, the State Attorney paid Mhaga to read common case law, which the lawyers said was "excessive", "preposterous" and "outrageous".  

"He took 10 hours to read a 14-page judgment (the Chonco case) and another 10 hours to read a 27-page judgment (the Albutt case). The account is outrageous," one lawyer said.

"It took him 10 hours to study one little provision in the Constitution relating to pardons?" asked another.

The State Attorney also paid Mhaga R10 000 for "legal research on the legislation governing Presidential pardons", but according to one lawyer, no such "legislation" exists: "It's just a subsection of Section 84 of the Constitution."

While, according to one of the lawyers, Mhaga's rates are what a junior advocate would charge, the amount of time spent preparing the legal opinion was excessive, unless it was extremely complicated.

Recommended a pardon

The legal opinion that Masutha handed to Ramaphosa earlier this month, based on Mhaga's groundwork, recommended that Dalindyebo be pardoned.

Mhaga was admitted as a lawyer in 2002, but worked at the department for 17 years. He registered with the Pretoria Bar Council as a junior counsel last year and started working on the Dalindyebo case later that same year.

Mhaga, however, does not appear on the Legal Practice Council website.

The Department of Justice redirected News24's questions to previous answers which did not address this matter. News24 posed questions to the department two weeks ago about Mhaga's lack of seniority on a high-profile and complex case, as well as the excessive fees paid to him.

"On the question of legal research done by advocate Mhaga, the complexity of the matter and fact that it is unprecedented should inform the time spent researching for the legal opinion," department spokesperson Max Mpunzana previously told News24.

'The king will make his way home'

While the department also said Mhaga's services were solicited solely for the purpose of the minister, the invoice suggests that Dalindyebo was actually his client.

On January 10, 2019, Mhaga charged R10 000 for "attending to the completion of the Presidential pardon application form and consultation with the King's spokesperson and entire Amabhele lobby group in East London".

On February 1, 2019, he charges R4 000 for "preparing and discussing application form together with supporting documents and legal opinion with client, legal advisor, state attorney and other Ministry officials".

Ramaphosa was handed an ultimatum during this time to pardon the king or face a campaign to encourage mass mobilsation and boycotts of the May 8 elections across the country.

On Sunday, Ramaphosa met with acting abaThembu King Azenathi Dalindyebo and called on the abaThembu people to be patient while he applies his mind to the matter.

Ramaphosa told eNCA, "We should be patient. The king will make his way home."

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Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  buyelekhaya dalindyebo
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