The legal woes of former president Jacob Zuma have increased after he lost an appeal to set aside a North Gauteng High Court ruling that stripped him of state funding for his upcoming corruption trial that emanates from the arms deal of the late 1990s.
In a ruling sent out electronically to all parties involved on Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that Zuma should pay back the R15.3 million the state used on him to fight off his corruption trial, which returns to court in May. The legal fees are, however, now estimated to be around R25 million.
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) this morning dismissed Zuma's attempt to appeal the ruling by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, which found that there was no legal basis for government to pay for Zuma's corruption trial defence.
The legal battle over the funding started in early 2018 when the DA and later the EFF wanted President Cyril Ramaphosa to stop funding the Zuma trial, as they argued it was unlawful.
The funding was approved by the Thabo Mbeki government in 2006 on the advice that Zuma’s offences allegedly happened while he was in office and he was entitled to state assistance. However, the agreement sanctioned by the State Attorney was that if he lost, he would have to refund the state.
Handing down the judgment, the SCA sitting in Bloemfontein also hit Zuma with legal costs for using remarks that are deemed to be offensive against the court and its judges. Zuma, who has revealed in various court battles that he is dead broke and can't afford to settle certain financial obligations, including high child maintenance fees, claimed, without producing evidence, that the judges were biased against him.
"It is in the public interest that charges relating to the abuse of public office, corruption and fraud are prosecuted to ensure public accountability, the promotion of good governance, the protection of the rule of law and the protection and advancement of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, three Pretoria High Court judges ruled in a unanimous decision delivered in 2018."
The ruling continued:
If the state is burdened with the high legal costs of those public office bearers who are charged with such crimes, the taxpayer bears that burden. Poor communities also continue to be denied access to essential services, as the state's resources are being diverted to funding the defences of public office bearers charged with such crimes – in this instance financially litigated on a most luxurious scale.
The SCA has also ruled that Zuma must be hit with a punitive costs order for attacking the judges who had ruled against him, Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba, Judge Pieter Meyer and Judge Elizabeth Kubushi, as being biased against him.
"There is nothing on the record to sustain the inference that the presiding judges in this matter (or at a more generalised level in other matters involving Mr Zuma) were biased or that they were not open-minded, impartial or fair, the SCA stated in this morning's ruling.
"The allegations were made with a reckless disregard for the truth and persisted in during argument. They ought not to have been made at all… to have persisted in the unjustified criticism of not just the High Court, but more generally the judiciary, is plainly deserving of censure."
The court found that it would be "just and equitable" for Zuma to pay back the taxpayers' money spent on his legal fees after the State Attorney determines exactly how much he owes.
The SCA stated:
A just and equitable remedy in this case, so found the High Court, requires a full and complete accounting by the State Attorney, under oath and an order directing Mr Zuma to repay to the State the legal costs incurred on his behalf.
"A repayment order may well be essential to remedy the abuse of public resources; vindicate the rule of law; and, reaffirm the constitutional principles of accountability and transparency, especially by a former incumbent of the highest office in the land. Simply setting aside the decision to pay, without ordering an accounting and repayment, would achieve none of those crucial remedial objectives."