Taxpayers still foot officials' bills

Robert McBride said most of his legal costs were borne by him, yet he had never dealt with their payment and did not know the amounts involved. (Peggy Nkomo, Gallo Images)

Robert McBride said most of his legal costs were borne by him, yet he had never dealt with their payment and did not know the amounts involved. (Peggy Nkomo, Gallo Images)

Former Ekurhuleni Metro police chief Robert McBride has not repaid the R7.1-million he owes the Ekurhuleni municipality for legal fees incurred during his 2006 drunk driving case, despite a judgment ordering him to do so.

A wall of silence also surrounds the question of whether disgraced former police commissioner Jackie Selebi has repaid the roughly R17.4-million he owes the South African Police Service for legal fees relating to his long-running corruption case – but it does appear that no concrete steps have been taken to recover the money.

Selebi asked for state assistance to pay his fees, but according to a pretrial agreement, he would have to reimburse the state if he lost the case.

His hefty bill was incurred after the state attorney directed his defence to Wynanda Coetzee, at Geyser and Coetzee Attorneys, and advocate Jaap Cilliers.

Asked about McBride, the Ekurhuleni council’s acting media relations manager, Justice Mohale, said this week that the metro had appointed a Johannesburg legal firm, Salijee, Du Plessis and Van der Merwe, more than a year ago to recoup the fees it had paid on McBride’s behalf, but he had not repaid them. Asked whether action had been taken to recover them, municipal spokesperson Lebogang Ramashala said: “Not as yet. However, a summons will be issued shortly.”

Different tune
Asked why a summons was necessary when a court order had been handed down and when it was likely to be served, Clive Govender of Salijee, Du Plessis and Van der Merwe said he could not discuss confidential client matters.

McBride, however, sang a different tune.

“Most of the trial costs have been borne by myself and, as you may be aware, Ekurhuleni Metro ceased to continue paying midway through the trial.
As I have never dealt with the payment of legal costs, I am unaware of the amounts paid [by Ekurhuleni Metro]”, he said.

He would not say how much the case had cost him to date.

In April last year Pretoria magistrate Peet Johnson found McBride guilty of drunk driving and defeating the ends of justice, but he was acquitted on a charge of fraud. In September he was sentenced to two years in jail for drunk driving and five years on the other charge, two of which were suspended for five years.

Prevaricated
The trial followed an incident in December 2006 when McBride crashed his government vehicle on the R511 in Centurion following an end-of-year function at Hartbeespoort Dam.

The judge lambasted McBride during sentencing, labelling him an unreliable witness and ordering him to repay the legal costs footed by the Ekurhuleni council.

Selebi was sentenced to 15 years in prison and lost his appeal in December last year. Since then, several government officials have prevaricated over the repayment of his legal fees covered by the SAPS.

In March, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told Parliament that the state attorney was liaising with the police about the matter.

However, in June it was reported that the Pretoria state attorney, Aletta Moipone Mosidi, was suspended in April following irregular payments amounting to millions of rands by her office to a law firm. Johannesburg state attorney K Lekabe said Selebi’s legal fees were to have been collected by her office.

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on policing, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said this week that she had sent a question about the collection of Selebi’s legal fees on June 14 to Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa for a written reply.

Under consideration
“He is supposed to respond within 10 days and of course the 10 days have passed,” she said. “Maybe Selebi has paid, but the fact that Mthethwa has not bothered to respond speaks volumes.”

Mthethwa’s spokesperson, Zweli Mnisi, said the issue was “currently under consideration between the state lawyers and his legal representatives. We thus respect the current process and, at an appropriate time, we will be able to make public pronouncements on the matter.”

Nonkululeko Mbatha, spokesperson for national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, said the matter was still under consideration.

Phiyega, approached in person this week at the Social Cohesion Summit in Johannesburg, replied tersely: “No comment.”

The justice department also refused to comment and would not say whether it had approached the SAPS. Communication officials in the department referred the matter to the police.

Radebe himself asked that the questions be put to his department.

State contributions
In response to a parliamentary question in May, Mthethwa said that Selebi was still receiving state contributions to his pension fund and medical aid.

The value of Selebi’s assets is not clear, although it is understood that the value of his palatial home in Waterkloof, Pretoria, is less than his legal fees.

The former police commissioner was meant to serve his sentence in Johannesburg Prison, but he collapsed in his home after hearing that his appeal had been unsuccessful and has been in hospital ever since.

Medupe Simasiku, the National Prosecuting Authority’s regional communications manager, said McBride’s appeal had been set down for December 6 and his bail had been extended until the case was finalised. Simasiku said the state would oppose the appeal. “The information gathered and to be presented is huge … He will only start serving his ­sentence once his appeal fails,” Simasiku said.

Last year, claims that McBride’s legal bills were inflated and had to be investigated were widely reported in the media.

Metro’s failure
In an item relating to his legal costs on the Ekurhuleni council agenda dated March 31 2010, consultant Gayle Blumenthal states: “The writer’s overall view is that many of the accounts received from [McBride’s former lawyers] Dehal Attorneys are extremely vague and furnish little or no detail of specific work done, and there may well be duplications.”

Mohale said the Special Investiga­ting Unit (SIU) had taken up the matter, although advocate Roshan Dehal said the unit had not informed him of any investigation relating to McBride’s fees. No complaint had been laid officially by the metro and suggestions to the contrary were “mischievous”, Dehal said.

But SIU spokesperson Boy Ndala said the council had approached the unit to review documents related to the matter.

“We are currently awaiting relevant documents to assess if the allegations fall within our current proclamation,” Ndala said.

Dehal said he and his briefing attorneys had withdrawn from the case because of the metro’s failure to pay in full and were suing for the outstanding fees. He would not be drawn on the amount.

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011.
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