Former president Jacob Zuma’s lawyer should pay back the R25 million he gained as legal costs when Zuma used taxpayers’ money to fund his fight against the corruption charges levelled against him.
This application was brought before the North Gauteng High Court by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who joined the legal battle between the DA and government over the legality of Zuma’s use of taxpayers’ money to fight his “own private legal battles”.
Representing the EFF, Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said that in addition to Zuma paying back the money, “his legal counsel Michael Hulley should also pay back the R25 million he has gained from the proceedings”.
Ngcukaitobi argued that the costs had ballooned to R25 million as a result of Hulley hiring two senior and two junior counsels to assist in Zuma’s legal battles.
He argued that Zuma had “abused and manipulated the system” and “his office” with regards to his legal fees and that the state had “given Zuma and Hulley a blank cheque” which they misused and should, likewise, pay back the money.
Hulley’s legal counsel, however, objected to her client having to pay back the money and requested that Hulley be allowed to file responding papers next week.
Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba declined this request, saying Hulley knew about the EFF’s application in August and had not bothered to submit opposing papers. The court would proceed with only the two applications from the EFF and the DA, he said.
In March, the DA filed papers asking the court to review an agreement between the Presidency and Zuma to cover the legal costs incurred by the former president for his criminal prosecutions. At the time of filing the court papers, the state had already spent at least R15.3 million on Zuma’s legal fees.
The North Gauteng High Court heard today that there has been no proper accounting of public money spent on Zuma’s legal fees in his criminal case, with the EFF putting the amount spent so far at R32 million.
Arguments will continue in the high court in Pretoria until tomorrow, when the former president will know whether or not he will have to pay his own legal fees to fight corruption charges against him.
The DA’s lead advocate, Sean Rosenberg, argued that the government was not a party to the criminal proceedings and Zuma was acting in his personal capacity so he should not have been funded by the state.
He argued that the law allowed for the state to provide legal assistance, not legal fees. He also argued that the proceedings were a criminal prosecution against Zuma in his personal capacity, making it illegal for the state attorney to have been requested to act on Zuma and not on behalf of the government.
The EFF also argued that the indictment against Zuma had nothing to do with his work as deputy president and that the state advocate should have merely assisted with advising Zuma, not going as far as having the state pay for his legal costs.
Ngcukaitobi argued that if Zuma could not afford legal costs he should have gone to the legal aid board and sought assistance.
Zuma’s lawyers were expected to oppose the DA and EFF’s application to repay the state, arguing that the directive was given by the presidency and not Zuma himself.
The two-day hearing, which ends on Wednesday, came ahead of Zuma’s next court appearance at the end of this month on charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering.