'Too late to refute Zuma's legal bills'

Ex-president Jacob Zuma is said to have spent R30m in legal costs at taxpayers' expense.
Ex-president Jacob Zuma is said to have spent R30m in legal costs at taxpayers' expense.
Image: Alaister Russell

Former president Jacob Zuma's lawyers have dismissed the DA and the EFF's bid to force him to pay back millions of rand in legal costs as lacking "reasonable explanation" to challenge a decision taken 12 years ago.

Zuma's lawyer advocate Thabani Masuku asked the North Gauteng high court in Pretoria yesterday to dismiss the parties' application for Zuma to pay back the money he used towards his legal costs on cases relating to the arms deal saga.

The EFF estimated that more than R30m of taxpayers' money was used to fund Zuma's legal costs.

Masuku said the application by the two parties fell way outside the 180 days allowed for the review of administrative decisions.

"They have delayed bringing this application ... the parties knew that there was a decision to fund Mr Zuma's legal costs," argued Masuku.

He argued that the court had no authority to entertain the application, which seeks to review a decision taken "12 or 14 years ago".

He said whether the decision was lawful or not, it got validated by the delay in challenging it.

DA lawyer advocate Sean Rosenberg said Zuma was not entitled to have his legal fees paid by the state on the arms deal prosecution because the alleged criminality took place while he was not "furthering any government interest".

The charges Zuma is facing relate to more than 700 questionable payments the former president allegedly received in connection with the government's controversial multi-
billion rand arms deal.

The DA and the EFF want the court to declare that the state is not liable for Zuma's legal costs, which had been incurred in his personal capacity in criminal prosecutions against him by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Rosenberg cited to the full bench of the high court that there were two other instances in which Zuma's legal costs were settled although there was no approval by the director-general in the presidency.

In one instance, the costs related to the former president's lawyers attending to questions from the NPA .

Another instance related to Zuma's lawyers "holding a watching brief" during the trial of his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik.

"It appears to be unlawful that funding took place where no final decision was made," Rosenberg told the court.

Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, representing the EFF, argued that Zuma received special treatment due to his position in government and the ANC.

He said even though Zuma's former adviser was appearing in court in 2004, the state still decided to give Zuma funding for legal costs in the matter as an interested party.

"Mr Zuma was the deputy president when the decision [to fund his legal costs] was taken... for actions that happened while he was economic development MEC in KwaZulu-Natal," Ngcukaitobi argued, noting that the judicial requirements for the state attorney to fund employees' legal costs were not met in Zuma's case.

Ngcukaitobi said "post-2009" the government made more decisions and approvals relating to Zuma's legal costs, which were all to his benefit.

Former president Thabo Mbeki and the office of the state attorney apparently committed to paying Zuma's legal fees back in the mid 2000s.

The matter continues today.

X