The Democratic Alliance’s application to order former president Jacob Zuma to pay his own legal fees was a political move by the party, the Pretoria high court heard on Wednesday.
Counsel for Zuma, Thabani Masuku SC, argued that the DA’s application to the court was not made in the public interest, but to further the party’s image as “the political party which is committed to bringing accountability in public life and administration.”
Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering related to the multibillion-rand arms deal. The charges were dropped in 2009 but reinstated in March this year. Since he was first charged, Zuma has litigated a number of times on different aspects of his prosecution, which delayed the start of his trial. He also defended the national director of public prosecution’s decision to drop the charges against him.
In March, Zuma’s successor President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed in Parliament that the state has been funding Zuma’s legal costs since 2006, following Zuma’s request that his legal bills be funded by the state.
Counsel for the DA, Sean Rosenberg SC, contends in his heads of arguments that Zuma “has employed every legal stratagem to fend off his prosecution, litigating with abandon at state expense over many years”.
The DA has asked the court to declare that the state is not liable for those costs Zuma incurred “in his personal capacity in criminal prosecutions instituted against him, in any civil litigation related or incidental thereto and for any other associated legal costs”.
The DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters, who join the application, contend that Zuma’s legal fees have already cost the public between R16-million and R32-million — most of which was spent in securing legal assistance of his former lawyer Michael Hulley.
But Masuku argued on Wednesday that neither party could supply any evidence that Zuma’s legal costs had been exorbitant, adding that the former president did not embark on any litigation frivolously.
They should not assist the two parties in their political campaigns, said Masuku.
However Rosenberg argued that there are compelling reasons to view the party’s application as being made in the interest of the public. He said, along with the question of the loss of public money, the case could determine whether state functionaries are entitled to legal funding by the state when they are facing charges of corruption.
The question of unlimited state funding as a device to enable never-ending litigation around Zuma’s criminal charges is an issue calling out for determination by court, Rosenberg said.
After proceedings on Wednesday, DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe rejected Masuku’s claim that the parties application is a matter of political posturing.
“Every single time we bring litigation, the government blames it on politics. We litigate before elections. We litigate after elections. We litigate between elections,” Selfe told the Mail & Guardian.
“We litigate in the public interest to establish legal precedents that are going to help guide our law into the future.”
Selfe added that the case before the high court would help establish guidelines for dealing with a number of state functionaries who will likely face similar litigation, especially following the outcome of the commission of inquiry into state capture.
Judgment was reserved by Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba, who said he would likely deliver judgment before the end of this court term.