Former president Jacob Zuma wanted taxpayers to cough up for three senior advocates, two juniors, an attorney, a candidate attorney and an accounting expert so that he could be on an “equal footing” with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
This was Zuma’s legal team’s argument in 2006, when he insisted that government cover his legal defence against corruption charges.
All this has come to light in correspondence between Zuma’s lawyers and the state, which was filed this week at the Pretoria High Court.
The correspondence relates to the DA’s court bid to have Zuma pay back the money that the state has spent on his personal legal costs for the prosecutions instituted against him between June 2005 and December 2007.
At the time, the team of prosecutors was being led by Billy Downer SC, and the principle of “equality of arms” required that Zuma’s arsenal be supplemented, according to Zuma’s argument.
Michael Hulley, Zuma’s attorney, was unhappy because the state was neglecting Zuma, while it had massive resources for its own case.
Hulley said it was “completely unacceptable” that the state was only offering Zuma the services of the state attorney and a junior and senior advocate.
The state attorney was eventually willing to finance Hulley and four advocates, they just had to agree on fees.
But the latest court papers show the taxpayer had already started coughing up for Zuma’s defence.
In 2004, when Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik was prosecuted for corruption, the taxpayer also had to pay for senior counsel Neil Tuchten – who is now a judge – and another advocate to attend Shaik’s case.
Their job was to follow proceedings and to take note of anything that could be detrimental to Zuma and protect his interests.
They were paid R8 000 per court day and R800 an hour, according to the correspondence.
In addition, there was drama behind the scenes because of the accounts Hulley was sending to the state attorney to settle.
In 2009, the former state attorney in Pretoria, Moipone Mosidi, questioned an amount of R77 000 in Hulley’s accounts. She said she could not find justification for the claims.
Mosidi even threatened to report Hulley to the law society in one of her letters.
Hulley strongly denied any irregularities and said Mosidi was welcome to lodge a complaint against him. It appears that the dispute was later resolved.
The exchange of correspondence lays bare the persistent tension over legal costs.
When Zuma’s second prosecution was instituted in 2007, the presidency recommend that the state “only” pay Zuma’s attorney, one senior advocate and one junior advocate.
Mosidi told Hulley there was no justification for paying three advocates.
In March 2008, Mosidi wrote to Hulley that public funds needed to be utilised fairly and accountably.
Hulley responded that he planned to appoint a team of seven legal experts, and that their tariffs would be between R2 500 and R24 000.
Aside from Mosidi’s push-back and the size of Zuma’s legal team, there appears to have been little opposition to paying Zuma’s legal fees.
Among those who recommended that Zuma’s legal fees be paid by the state was Menzi Simelane, then the director-general of justice, who was later appointed director of the NPA by Zuma.
Chief state legal adviser Enver Daniel, former justice minister Brigitte Mabandla and several top advisers to former president Thabo Mbeki were all involved in the exchange of correspondence and supported the decision.
The arguments included that the honour and dignity of the office of the deputy president had to be protected and that Zuma was, at the time of the alleged offences, a public office bearer – first as an MEC in KwaZulu-Natal and later as deputy president.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha this week told Parliament that Zuma’s legal costs for the five cases he’d been involved in since 2006 amounted to R24 240 201.
At the time, Zuma agreed to compensate the state attorney for all expenses if he was found guilty.