Jacob Zuma loses state legal fees appeal bid, must pay back millions

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Former president Jacob Zuma
Former president Jacob Zuma
PHOTO: Thulie Dlamini/Gallo Images/Sowetan

Former president Jacob Zuma has failed in his bid to challenge a court ruling that cut government funding of his corruption trial legal fees and must now pay back a legal bill estimated at some R25 million.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) this morning dismissed Zuma's attempt to appeal the ruling by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, which found that there was no legal basis for government to pay for Zuma's corruption trial defence.

"It is in the public interest that charges relating to the abuse of public office, corruption and fraud are prosecuted to ensure public accountability, the promotion of good governance, the protection of the rule of law and the protection and advancement of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, three Pretoria High Court judges ruled in a unanimous decision delivered in 2018."

The ruling continued: 

If the state is burdened with the high legal costs of those public office bearers who are charged with such crimes, the taxpayer bears that burden. Poor communities also continue to be denied access to essential services, as the state's resources are being diverted to funding the defences of public office bearers charged with such crimes – in this instance financially litigated on a most luxurious scale.

The SCA has also ruled that Zuma must be hit with a punitive costs order for attacking the judges who had ruled against him, Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba, Judge Pieter Meyer and Judge Elizabeth Kubushi, as being biased against him.

"There is nothing on the record to sustain the inference that the presiding judges in this matter (or at a more generalised level in other matters involving Mr Zuma) were biased or that they were not open-minded, impartial or fair, the SCA stated in this morning's ruling.

"The allegations were made with a reckless disregard for the truth and persisted in during argument. They ought not to have been made at all… to have persisted in the unjustified criticism of not just the High Court, but more generally the judiciary, is plainly deserving of censure."

The court found that it would be "just and equitable" for Zuma to pay back the taxpayers' money spent on his legal fees after the State Attorney determines exactly how much he owes.

The SCA stated:

A just and equitable remedy in this case, so found the High Court, requires a full and complete accounting by the State Attorney, under oath and an order directing Mr Zuma to repay to the State the legal costs incurred on his behalf.

"A repayment order may well be essential to remedy the abuse of public resources; vindicate the rule of law; and, reaffirm the constitutional principles of accountability and transparency, especially by a former incumbent of the highest office in the land. Simply setting aside the decision to pay, without ordering an accounting and repayment, would achieve none of those crucial remedial objectives."

This is a developing story.

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