South Africa

State attorney wants Zuma to pay back nearly R29m in legal fees

Jacob Zuma 3 1 1 1

Former president Jacob Zuma’s challenges continue to escalate as the State Attorney and Presidency launch legal action to compel him to repay nearly R29 million in legal fees for his corruption trial defence.

This comes two years after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ordered the State Attorney to “take all necessary steps, including the institution of civil proceedings, to recover the amounts paid by the state for Zuma’s legal costs”.

The court further emphasised that allowing officials to resist accountability by using state resources to obstruct or delay prosecution is a subversion of the public interest.

Millions owed by Zuma

The legal action by the State Attorney and Presidency comes months before the court-ordered claim against Zuma would have prescribed, according to News24.

They are seeking to force Zuma to repay R28.960,774 in taxpayer funds spent on his legal fees.

The amount sought from Zuma is R10 million more than what President Cyril Ramaphosa initially claimed had been spent on his legal costs.

State Attorney Isaac Chowe clarified in papers filed at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that an error had been made in the initial demand letter sent to Zuma.

“The total amount of R18 261 347.72, which was stated in the letter of demand, was based on the record of payments that could be traced at that stage, and after a diligent search and verification of the record of payments was conducted during the preparation of this application, it appeared that further monies were expended on Mr Zuma’s behalf totalling the sum of R10 699 426.62,” he said.

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Chowe said the purpose of the government’s litigation was to now “seek an order … directing [Zuma] to repay all the costs or that were paid by the state on his behalf in respect of legal costs that were incurred by him in his personal capacity in the criminal prosecution instituted against him, and all related or ancillary litigation.”

In 2006 and 2008, Zuma’s lawyers requested State Attorney assistance with the legal costs of four counsel in his criminal cases. However, the high court later ruled that the state was not liable for the costs, and Zuma must repay the money.

Zuma’s appeal at the SCA was opposed by the DA and EFF.

The State Attorney further stressed that when the DA and the EFF launched their ultimately successful challenges to the state’s continued funding of Zuma’s corruption trial costs, the Presidency had elected not to oppose that litigation.

Scathing SCA ruling

In a unanimous ruling by Judge Nathan Ponnan in 2021, the SCA criticised the process that led to the State Attorney and the Presidency granting Zuma a “blank cheque to pay private lawyers.”

According to the SCA judgement, it was only in March 2018 that the political parties became aware of the asserted legal basis for the funding.

“Until then the matter had been shrouded in secrecy. It was only after the review application had been launched that the full extent of the funding emerged. The SCA took a view that to have granted Zuma, who had been significantly enriched by a blank check to pay private lawyers is egregious,” the judgement read.

The court found this was Zuma’s personal legal battle and he had no right to fund it with taxpayers’ money.

Zuma has always maintained he was innocent and entitled to full state funding of his litigation costs because, he said, he was accused of crimes directly linked to his role in government.

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