Funding Zuma’s legal battles not reckless, court hears

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PRETORIA, November 7 – A decision to have the State foot former president Jacob Zuma’s legal bills was not a reckless but based on legal advice received, the high court in Pretoria heard on Wednesday.

Advocate Thabani Masuku, representing Zuma, told a full bench of judges that President Cyril Ramaphosa did not make a fresh decision about Zuma’s legal fees, saying he was bound by an existing agreement to pay the former president’s lawyers’ fees.

Ramaphosa revealed that the agreement, signed by Zuma during his predecessor Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, formed the basis for the decision to continue paying for Zuma’s legal fees in the spy tapes case.

The Presidency has said that the State will carry on covering Zuma’s legal fees until the court decides otherwise.

The Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters brought an application to have Zuma pay back R15.3 million already spent on his legal fees.

The parties also want the court to review an agreement between Zuma and the presidency to pay for his legal fees.

The fees were incurred during his criminal prosecution during the spy tapes saga in 2006.

On Tuesday, advocate Sean Rosenberg, for the DA, said the criminal prosecution was against Zuma in his personal capacity and therefore the state should not pay for his legal fees.

He said Section 3(1) provided that the state attorney perform work on behalf of the government, saying while this function may extend to providing legal services to public officials in their official capacity, it did not permit the state attorney to provide legal services to public officials who sue or are being sued or prosecuted in their personal capacities.

He said the government should not have paid for Zuma’s private attorney.

Advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi, for the EFF, also argued that Zuma had been given preferential treatment and abused his office as he had unlimited access to public funds.

Ngcukaitobi said Zuma and his former attorney, Michael Hulley, should pay back money spent by the State attorney’s office for his legal fees.

“It is a completely unauthorised expenditure. It is wasteful expenditure,” he said.

He said there was no was no proper and prudent financial management of costs incurred by the State Attorney.

On Wednesday, Masuku said there was no evidence to prove claims by the EFF and the DA that the price of legal services provided to Zuma was exorbitant.

He said the parties were bringing the matter to further their own political interests and not the public interest.

“We shouldn’t assist political parties to fight their battles through the court,” Masuku said.

He said the court should not look into whether the charges Zuma faces are in relation to his job. It must be left to the criminal court to determine that.

Masuku further argued that it is important for the State attorney to support State officials, even if that official is charged with rape.

Judge Pieter Meyer put it to Masuku that Zuma appointed his own attorney and they didn’t obtain their instruction from the State attorney.

Masuku argued that people like Jackie Selebi and others have also received funding from the State attorney.

Judge Aubrey Ledwaba said that it doesn’t make it right just because it happened before.

In his closing arguments, Masuku said the matter should be dismissed on basis that there have been undue delays to seek a review of the agreement to pay.

He said the DA had failed to bring a case as far as 2008.

The matter has been reserved for judgement.

– African News Agency (ANA)