Attorney Barnabas Xulu, a friend of Jacob Zuma and lawyer to Western Cape Judge President, John Hlophe, has been ordered to pay back around R20m in legal fees funnelled to his firm by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, which was entitled to free legal advice from the Office of the State Attorney.

The Daily Maverick report by Marianne Thamm notes what it describes as a significant judgment was handed down in the Western Cape High Court by Judge Owen Rogers yesterday.

The ruling serves as a warning to Ministers, departments and other officials partial to giving work to legal friends.

It is also a warning to those who ignore the State Liability Act.

It was former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF), Senzeni Zokwana, who had funnelled the work to Xulu’s firm. Rogers ordered Barnabas Xulu Incorporated (BXI) to repay DAFF by Thursday 30 April 2020, ‘the amount of R20 242 472, which it received pursuant to the invalid writs of execution and notices of attachment’.

Judge Elize Steyn issued the order for the writs on 16 June 2019 and by August the same year the sheriff had paid R17 657 098 – in accordance with the second writ – into the BXI trust account which Xulu then shifted to his business account ‘from which it was disbursed’.

‘By 5 August 2019, only R203 515.97 remained in the trust account and by 6 August only R117 200.25 remained in the business account (though R3.4m is available in the frozen forex account),’ noted Rogers.

An interesting detail popped up in the judgment, considering the storm brewing in the Western Cape Division after Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath accused Hlophe of gross misconduct, says the Daily Maverick.

Rogers’ judgment reveals that it was Goliath who had deliberated, in 2019, on the application for a R20m settlement entered into by Deputy DG of Fisheries Management, Siphokazi Ndudane, and Xulu’s firm to be made an order of the court.

Xulu had been unhappy that Goliath, as the hearing judge, had correctly sought further information from National Treasury, the State Attorney, the NDPP, then Minister of Agriculture, Forestries & Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana, as well as DAFF DG, Mike Mlengana, about the deal.

‘In the meanwhile, BXI had complained to the Judge President that Goliath’s requirements went beyond what was reasonable. Goliath notified BXI on 20 May that in view of this complaint she would no longer be dealing with the case, which BXI could enroll in Third Division in the normal course,’ Rogers noted in his judgment.

And that is how Steyn came to hear the application and later grant the order in favour of BXI.

It was this order by Steyn that Rogers had now rescinded.

Full Daily Maverick report