Local attorney probed

Gavel and scales
Gavel and scales

A Pietermaritzburg attorney who is a state representative in former President Jacob Zuma’s corruption case is being probed by the Public Protector over claims that he and his firm are unduly benefitting from government contracts.

Asif Essa, who is a director of law firm Cajee Setsubi Chetty (CSC) has been reported to Public Prosecutor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, by a group of Pietermaritzburg lawyers claiming that he was being favoured by the State Attorney’s office in the allocation of government legal work allocated to law firms in the city.

“The work is not spread and this one firm monopolised the state correspondent work and earns substantial fees,” they said.

They also complain the same advocates are being briefed but did not name them.

“When advocates have to be briefed by the state, the State Attorney continues to brief the same advocates and the work is not spread,” the lawyers said.

According to the law the State Attorney’s office can appoint a private legal firm to receive legal documents on behalf of government entities involved in a legal disputes.

However, it is only state lawyers that can do the actual work such as the drafting of legal documents and arguing matters in court on behalf of state entities.

The disgruntled attorneys claim that the KZN State Attorney’s office, permitted CSC to get deeply involved in government cases.

“The State Attorney appoints the same firm to do work over and above work which a correspondent attorney should do — i.e. to do the actual attorney’s work — this is not provided for in the Act,” the lawyers, said.

Essa is a former president of the KZN Law Society.

“In the case of the office of the State Attorney in KwaZulu-Natal, virtually all of the taxations in Pietermaritzburg are conducted on behalf of the state by Mr Essa.

“This is a known fact within the legal profession in Pietermaritzburg and has been the source of much disharmony,” the lawyers said.

Statistics obtained from the justice department, the lawyers said, show that CSC was making substantial amounts of money from the state.

“For the period 2010 and 2011, for example, the fees earned (by CSC) totalled R290 573,87 and the instructions were multifarious (not limited to correspondent work).

Essa was appointed as the state’s Pietermaritzburg representative after the Zuma matter was moved from Durban to Pietermaritzburg sometime last year.

According to the lawyers the State Attorney’s office should not have appointed Essa in the Zuma matter since it was not a civil case but a criminal matter that did not require a correspondent attorney.

“It must follow that he came to be in the matter on account of his ability to control state instructions in Pietermaritzburg.

“This again shows the level of influence which Mr Essa as over the State Attorney — an investigation is required into whether the relationship between the State Attorney and the CSC and Mr Essa is proper,” the lawyers said.

Essa declined to talk about the matter when approached for comment.

However, Mkhwebane confirmed her office is investigating the matter.

“The investigation is ongoing — we have been exchanging correspondence with the Department of Justice. We have also done so with the firm in question,” her spokesperson, Oupa Sagwele, said.

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