Notorious investigator Paul O’Sullivan has given law firm Hogan Lovells two weeks to disclose, in detail, all fees it has earned from work for the South African state in the past five years, or face unspecified “other steps”.
The firm created an “enabling environment for capture of the criminal justice system and unlawfully shored up the criminal structures that then went on to protect state capture” O’Sullivan accused in a letter on the weekend, in which he laid out in great detail events he said prove as much.
On Sunday Peter Hain, a member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, endorsed O’Sullivan’s letter and asked the UK’s Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to include it as part of a complain he has already lodged against Hogan Lovells.
Hain effectively wants the firm shut down by way of debarment by the SRA, or at least wants to see it disciplined, as an important part of the drive against state corruption in South Africa, he said.
O’Sullivan’s 19-page letter, under the name of his nonprofit Forensics for Justice, blames Hogan Lovells for the legal manoeuvres of three of its “sordid clients”: former police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, former Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza, and SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane.
By doing the bidding of these clients, O’Sullivan said, the legal firm cooperated in the persecution of state capture foes such as former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, former Sars employees such as Ivan Pillay, and O’Sullivan himself.
When Hogan Lovells did the bidding of Moyane, for instance, says O’Sullivan, it knowingly ignored money laundering allegations against his second in command Jonas Makwakwa and his partner Kelly-Ann Elskie when it handled Makwakwa’s internal disciplinary hearing.
“It is clear to me now, that there was a hidden conspiracy, in covering up the criminal conduct of Makwakwa and his de facto spouse, so that they would be free to return to Sars and continue to assist Moyane in helping President Zuma’s accomplices evade payment of billions of Rands in taxes, including letting Zuma and his family off the hook for many, if not hundreds of millions in unpaid taxes,” O’Sullivan wrote.
Moyane, O’Sullivan charges, chose Hogan Lovells for the job because there had already been a confidential agreement to let Makwakwa off the hook. He provides no proof of this assertion, saying only it is the only logical conclusion that can be reached.
Much like the Nazis later prosecuted in the Nuremberg trials, O’Sullivan said, the law firm can not claim that it was merely following the instructions of its clients.
“The only thing that your firm can honestly claim is complacency, with a corrupt system that helped to line your pockets with my and my fellow citizen’s hard earned taxes, whilst helping your clients to bring our country to its knees.”
The firm must now quantify its earnings from the South African government and its entities, O’Sullivan insisted.
He also suggested that it should donate its services for a period of three years, alongside fellow state capture implicated companies KPMG, SAP, and McKinsey, “to provide crime-busting resources to the state, with the principle aim of removing the yoke of state capture and bringing those responsible, including your past clients, to justice, as well as mounting civil litigation to set the records straight.”
Hogan Lovells and the SRA did not immediately respond to the letter or questions relating to it.
Hogan Lovells has previously roundly rejected similar allegations made directly by Hain, saying it is a champion of truth and acted correctly in its engagements with the state, including in the Makwakwa matter.
In a detailed, 16-page rebuttal to Hain’s comments in the House of Lords, where he has protection against normal libel rules, the firm’s South African chairperson Lavery Modise said the allegations “are simply untrue” and “if repeated elsewhere, would be undoubted grounds for legal action”.
Shortly after publication, the SRA responded to questions on the letter.
An SRA spokesperson said: “We are aware of this issue and are collecting all the relevant evidence before deciding on next steps.”
The organisation said complaints made to it only become a matter of public record once it had decided whether to take action, and what action it will take. It does not give updates on its evaluation while that is in progress.
However, the SRA said that in general a breach of its code of conduct comes with a maximum fine of £2 000 around R34 000 at Monday’s exchange rate.
“If we believe misconduct warrants a more severe sanction, then we will refer the matter to the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which has unlimited fining powers, and can remove solicitors from the profession,” the SRA said.
On Monday night, in response to questions on the letter, Hogan Lovells SA chairperson Lavery Modise issued the following statement:
I have received a copy of Paul O’Sullivan’s letter. He is a passionate anti-corruption campaigner, but his understanding of the South African legal system and his attempt to lay the genuine suffering of our country at our doorstep is incorrect and not well-founded.
I have no doubt that we serve the founding principles of the constitution of this country with professional dignity, professional independence and responsibility. The rule of law means listening to the evidence, adhering to attorney-client confidentiality, decent representation, and due process – for individuals, corporations, and the state.
We stand by these principles and the South African legal system and will vigorously defend it as would every reputable law firm in South Africa. It is what separates us from the rule of the mob and conviction by accusation and guilt by association.
We welcome any review of our work by the appropriate authorities and by Parliament.