O'Sullivan doesn't understand SA's legal system - Hogan Lovells

Cape Town - A British-headquartered law firm accused by Paul O’Sullivan of complicity in state capture has replied that the forensic investigator has an “incorrect” understanding of how the SA legal system works.

On Monday O’Sullivan, in a 19-page letter, laid out a case that he said showed how lawyers Hogan Lovells created an “enabling” environment for state capture to flourish.

The letter, addressed to one of the law firm’s partners in London, was uploaded to the website of Forensics for Justice, a non-profit company that O’Sullivan founded in 2015.

On Tuesday Lavery Modise, chairperson of Hogan Lovells SA, said in an email to Fin24 that he had received the letter.

“[O’Sullivan] is a passionate anti-corruption campaigner, but his understanding of the South African legal system and his attempt to lay the genuine suffering of our country at our doorstep is incorrect and not well-founded,” said Modise.

“I have no doubt that we serve the founding principles of the Constitution of this country with professional dignity, professional independence and responsibility.”

In his letter O’Sullivan accused the law firm of repeatedly acting on behalf of "sordid" clients including former police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, former Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza and current SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, who he claims have all had a hand in state capture.

He said that Nhleko and Ntlemeza had brought a number of “vexatious and meritless cases against persons who sought to uncover state capture in South Africa” at the same time that they were the clients of Hogan Lovells. 

Some of these cases included the suspension of former Hawks head Lieutenant General Anwar Dramat, and charges against former finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

Nhleko has denied he used his position to abuse his powers. Ntlemeza has since retired.

Moyane, meanwhile, has denied being responsible for bringing charges against Gordhan, and has defended the disciplinary process that lead to top SARS official Jonas Makwakwa being reappointed.   

‘Guilt by association’

In his reply, Modise said that the law firm had always acted according to the rule of law.

“The rule of law means listening to the evidence, adhering to attorney-client confidentiality, decent representation, and due process – for individuals, corporations, and the state.”

“We stand by these principles and the South African legal system and will vigorously defend it as would every reputable law firm in South Africa. It is what separates us from the rule of the mob and conviction by accusation and guilt by association,' he said. 

He added Hogan Lovells would welcome reviews of its work by "appropriate authorities and by Parliament".

British peer Peter Hain, who has also accused the law firm of being complicit in state capture in South Africa, in mid-January said he had referred Hogan Lovells to the UK’s Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), an independent body that regulates solicitors and law firms in England and Wales.

“I have asked the SRA to withdraw Hogan Lovells’ authorisation as a recognised body and to examine what other disciplinary action can be taken against its leading partners, including withdrawing their permission to practise as solicitors,” he said in a speech before the House of Lords. 

An SRA spokesperson previously told Fin24: “We take all complaints seriously and will look at any evidence given to us about alleged misconduct.”

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