Diamond dealer dazzles with half a million handout for Zuma

11 October 2022 - 12:21
Dudu Myeni and businessman Louis Liebenberg at Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday, where Jacob Zuma is prosecuting state advocate Billy Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu Dudu Myeni and businessman Louis Liebenberg at Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday, where Jacob Zuma is prosecuting state advocate Billy Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan.

Controversial diamond dealer Louis Liebenberg has pledged R500,000 to fund former president Jacob Zuma’s private prosecution of National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) advocate Billy Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan.

Zuma’s attorney Mongezi Ntanga says in an affidavit filed in response to Downer’s application that Zuma deposit R1m, being the estimated costs needed to fund his defence, that Liebenberg had already deposited the money into the trust account of his own attorney, Walter Niedinger.

Ntanga says this pledge would be used in the event “more generalised fundraising resources” from “justice-minded supporters” yielded insufficient funds.

While the issue of the amount was expected to be argued in a pretrial application when Downer and Maughan made their first appearance in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday, legal representatives for the parties confirmed the matter had been settled, and Downer had accepted the tender of R500,000.

According to reports, Liebenberg and Zuma have been close for some time.

Earlier this year he gifted Zuma two Nguni cows and last month he attended the Supreme Court of Appeal hearing in which Zuma appealed against a ruling by the Pretoria high court, declaring the decision by former prisons boss Arthur Fraser to grant him medical parole unlawful.

In July 2021, Liebenberg had R100m in assets frozen by the NPA after allegations of money laundering and running a Ponzi scheme. 

Downer, in his affidavit regarding the deposit, said the R90,000 put up by Zuma at that stage was woefully inadequate.

He said he would have to engage senior counsel and two juniors to defend himself against charges he had contravened the National Prosecuting Authority Act by allegedly “leaking” court papers  to Maughan before they were presented in open court. He said Zuma intended to call more than 20 witnesses and the trial would last for 10 days.

But Ntanga, in his affidavit, said it was likely that only half those witnesses would be called and the trial would probably only last five days. This was because on the admissions Downer had already made “conviction was a fait accompli” and the only real issue before the court would be mitigation in respect of sentence.

He said while it was conceded that Zuma was required to put up more money as a deposit, R1m was excessive, especially in light of the fact that Maughan had asked for no more than R500,000.

“In order to avoid incurring any further unnecessary costs of this application and put the applicant [Zuma] at risk of having to pay costs, I am instructed to tender the additional amount of R500,000,” he said.

Zuma served summons on Downer and Maughan to appear in court after the national director of public prosecutions declined to prosecute on the criminal charges he had previously laid against them.

At issue is the alleged “leaking” of court documents — containing the “confidential” medical report — in August last year when Zuma’s legal team were applying for a postponement of his criminal trial because he was sick. 

The report was attached to court documents filed by both his lawyers and the state before trial court  judge Piet Koen.

Maughan admits she asked for, and received, the state’s papers ahead of the hearing “in preparation” of covering the postponement hearing, but only reported on their contents once they were formally before the court and became public documents.

She also argues there was no detail about his medical condition in the report.

Downer, similarly, has argued he did nothing wrong and the private prosecution is just another ploy by Zuma to avoid trial and boost his attempts to have him removed as lead prosecutor.

The private prosecution was adjourned on Monday until February 2 next year.


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