Zuma says he will pay back money to defend court battles should he lose: Ramaphosa

Former President Jacob Zuma.
Former President Jacob Zuma.

Former president Jacob Zuma has undertaken to personally pay back the millions of rand spent by the taxpayer to defend his court cases related to corruption charges against him should he lose.

This was disclosed in the National Assembly by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his first oral question-and-answer session with MPs‚ during which opposition parties forced him to defend the decision to provide legal aid to his embattled predecessor.

Responding to a question by EFF leader Julius Malema on how much had been spent on Zuma's legal fees since 2009 and which policy had informed such a decision‚ Ramaphosa said the government had spent R15.3-million on court cases related to the withdrawal of criminal charges against Zuma between 2006 and 2009.

He said this was based on the advice from the justice department and the Presidency after Zuma undertook to pay back the money should he not defeat the charges against him.

But Malema was not impressed with the answer‚ saying it did not include other legal cases in which the taxpayer had footed his bill such as litigation on the Nkandla matter and his court challenges against the Public Protector's state of capture report.

Malema put it to Ramaphosa that with those two cases and many others factored‚ his estimate was that government has spent more than R64-million in courts in defence of Zuma.

"The amount you're pointing at‚ we don't think that it includes cases like Nkandla case‚ cases like the Public Protector case [in] which the court was very clear that he must from his personal pocket and he's appealing that.

"So if you were to take all these cases…that amount in our calculations we're sitting at almost R64 million which has been paid for the former president‚ the delinquent himself‚" said Malema.

Ramaphosa said the R15.3-million he presented earlier‚ was what the "the department of justice has been able to collate up to now".

"Honourable Malema is quoting amounts of R64-million. I am not aware of that. We've been using the agreement‚ honourable Speaker and honourable Malema‚ the agreement that was struck between former president Zuma and the government as the instrument that has enabled the government to pay the money on the understanding that the money will be paid back if he's been found to have been personally responsible for these acts‚" said Ramaphosa.

He said there needed to be "a distinction between the" legal fees related to Zuma's civil and criminal matters.

"Those need to be separated from the one that we're talking about now…those are the one we have deeper knowledge of.

"This is not the first [time] that this has been done‚ it has been done before for other officials.

"He was charged with acts that arose as he was occupying a government position as a result of conduct that had to do with him occupying a government position…this agreement covers that.”

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