- Advocate Seth Nthai's former secretary has filed papers at the CCMA, accusing him of trying to discredit her.
- Marietjie Jansen van Vuuren says Nthai's claims that she is out to extort money from him are deflection tactics.
- Nthai is currently facing multiple legal challenges after his readmission to the bar.
Advocate Seth Nthai's former company secretary says claims that she is trying to extort money from him are nothing more than "deflection tactics".
Marietjie Jansen van Vuuren's evidence that Nthai secretly gave legal advice to the government after being disbarred for trying to solicit a R5 million bribe is now the subject of a far-reaching Special Investigating Unit (SIU) probe.
In documents filed at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Friday, Jansen van Vuuren accuses Nthai of "deliberately attempting to discredit me" by "twisting and misrepresenting the contents" of the case she had lodged against him, "instead of dealing truthfully with the matter at hand and taking responsibility for his actions".
Jansen van Vuuren is the former company secretary at Nthai's Phillipus International Consulting Services company.
She has taken him to the CCMA for allegedly not paying her salary for 11 months, as well as for constructive dismissal.
She further accuses Nthai, who is currently facing multiple legal challenges after his readmission to the Bar last year by the Limpopo High Court, of "baldly denying" her damaging claims against him – rather than producing any real evidence to show that they are untrue.
Limpopo High Court Judge President Ephraim Makgoba and Judge Peter Mabuse last year accepted that Nthai had not practised as an advocate since his highly publicised removal from the Bar in 2013, and found that there was "no chance" he would break the legal profession's rules of practice in the future.
Nthai admitted during his readmission application that, while acting on behalf of the South African government in 2009, he tried to solicit a R5 million bribe from Italian businesses locked in a dispute with the state over mining rights, which the Italians had wanted to settle.
Nthai was recorded, on multiple occasions, not only promising to make the case go away if the businesses paid the bribe to him into a foreign account, but also disclosing key aspects of the government's strategy in fighting the case to one of the Italian CEOs involved in it.
Nthai was never criminally prosecuted for his self-confessed corruption.
Jansen van Vuuren's evidence, and the SIU investigation it has sparked, come as the General Council of the Bar (GCB) and Johannesburg Society of Advocates are now preparing to argue, in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), that Nthai should never have been readmitted to practise law – an appeal into which the Pretoria Society of Advocates is now also seeking to intervene.
In an unusual move, Nthai had tried to persuade the Appeal Court to reconsider its decision to allow the appeal, but that application was dismissed nearly two months ago.
The GCB remains adamant that its pending appeal against Nthai's readmission means that he should not be allowed to continue to practise as an advocate.
"Our position is that he can't practise," GCB chair Craig Watt-Pringle told News24.
"He has done so to our knowledge and we have brought this to the attention of the SCA."
In her application to the CCMA, Jansen van Vuuren stated that one of the reasons her employment with Nthai became "intolerable" was because of his "unethical behaviour in that he continued to practise law after being prohibited by the high court to do so in 2013…and not only did he require of me to assist him in doing so but he also required me to cover up the fact that he was practising law".
In response, Nthai told the CCMA that Jansen van Vuuren's claims were "typical tabloid tactics" made by her "in the hope of causing me sufficient embarrassment; to settle her attempt to extort money she is not entitled to from me".
"It is rather unfortunate that it has become the habit in modern society that individuals (in this instance Jansen van Vuuren) deem it necessary to effectively 'threaten' to smear my name and reputation in the public arena, with the sole intention to 'extort' money from me, and to solicit sympathy from the CCMA," Nthai states.
That answer does not appear to have convinced the SIU.
Jansen van Vuuren has revealed that the unit seized her hard drive, laptop and smartphone earlier this month, so that investigators could make a copy of the data contained on these devices.
The SIU is currently conducting a massive fraud and corruption investigation into the State Attorney's Office, which, among other responsibilities, appoints advocates to provide legal services to the state.
That investigation is probing evidence of collusion between the State Attorney's Office and legal practitioners, and has already resulted in 10 criminal cases being lodged against advocates accused of defrauding the state of R136 million.
As part of Jansen van Vuuren's CCMA case, she has produced evidence that she says clearly demonstrates that Nthai provided legal opinions to the government and wrote lawyers' letters while he was disbarred – and used another advocate and law firm as a "front" for these unlawful activities.
These legal opinions included advice in relation to a contractual dispute over the restoration of the graves of struggle heroes Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe and Kgosi Mampuru II.
Jansen van Vuuren also claims Nthai wrote opinions for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Arts and Culture, which he then forwarded to advocate Sophia Masimene.
'Defamatory and scandalous'
Jansen van Vuuren claims Masimene then fraudulently presented these legal opinions as her own and split her fee with Nthai.
In answer to queries from News24 about Masimene's response to allegations that she had acted as a "front" for Nthai and had unlawfully split fees with him, her attorney had previously stated that she regarded these claims as "defamatory and scandalous".
Nthai, in turn, has claimed that he acted as a "mentor" to Masimene and stressed that he never asked for any payment for such mentorship.
He has not provided any explanation for emails which appear to have been sent from his business email account, in which he issued Jansen van Vuuren with instructions on how to edit certain attached legal opinions, which then appear to have been written under Masimene's name.
Instead, he claimed that Jansen van Vuuren "also did typing work for Adv Masimene, for which she was paid".
Jansen van Vuuren has questioned why Masimene has not provided an affidavit to confirm Nthai's claims under oath – a failure she says that Nthai's claims about her are "hearsay" and inadmissible as evidence.
She has vehemently denied that she did typing work for the advocate and slammed Nthai's claims that Masimene regarded him as a mentor as "ludicrous".
"Why would an advocate with 13 years' experience need mentorship and assistance with non-complicated opinions?" she asks in legal papers before the CCMA.
Jansen van Vuuren has further pointed out that, in lawyers' letters to her, neither Masimene nor legal firm, Bhadrish Dhaya Attorneys, had disputed the authenticity of documents she produced as evidence that they had acted as "fronts" through which Nthai unlawfully provided legal services.
Instead, both had claimed that the documents were confidential and should not have been disclosed.
Nthai has also tried to rely on an affidavit that Jansen van Vuuren had herself filed as part of her evidence in her CCMA application – in which she stated under oath that Nthai was not practising as an advocate – as proof that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Jansen van Vuuren stated that she had made this affidavit after being "hounded" by a private investigator and the media following Nthai's readmission as an advocate.
"I wish to clarify once again that I confirmed that I told the investigator that (Nthai) was not practising, which was a lie, in order for the investigator to leave me alone. It was not a confirmation that (Nthai) was not practising law whilst being disbarred."
The CCMA says it will hear argument on the dispute between Nthai and Jansen van Vuuren, but has yet to set a date for that hearing.