Council of Legal Practitioners slammed for allegedly defrauding children

Henry

By Tania Broughton, GroundUp

A team of lawyers acting on behalf of victims believed to have been defrauded by lawyer Zuko Nonxuba have obtained a court order giving the Legal Practitioners Council (RPR) strict timelines to complete its investigations into the alleged looting of trust money amounting to about R348 million and to pay out any proven claims.

Among the victims are dozens of children with cerebral palsy whose parents and guardians sued the Department of Health, via Nonxuba’s firm, for medical negligence. The department paid millions of rand into the firm’s trust account, which was allegedly stolen by Nonxuba.

He was arrested and charged in 2019, and has since been suspended from practice.

Lawyers from Andraos & Hatchett Inc, assisted by advocates Nazeer Cassim (SC) and Mohammed Desai, brought an urgent application in the Johannesburg High Court against the Legal Practitioners Council and the Legal Practitioners Trust Fund to assist the victims.

A settlement agreement with the Legal Practitioners Council now puts great pressure on this council to settle the case quickly.

In their heads of argument, which served before judge Ingrid Opperman, the group argued, among other things, that as a lawyer Nonxuba committed the “most heinous acts” by targeting minor children with disabilities.

“It is therefore appropriate that the legal profession corrects the malicious acts of one of its own.”

Currently, the legal team is acting for two guardians of two children. But there are apparently more than 30 claimants.

One child’s plight has recently been on the investigative television show Carte Blanche highlighted. This child was severely malnourished and was admitted to a hospital with bed sores. The legal team said the application was brought to ensure that the same fate does not befall other children.

In their arguments in chief, the lawyers further argued that the council shamefully failed to act against Nonxuba.

“The facts paint a sad picture. From 2013 to 2014, after the council was aware of the various complaints, it did not take any action against Nonxuba.

“It was only on 13 July 2019, after the MEC for health in the Western Cape brought an application against the Legal Practitioners Council to investigate Nonxuba, that the council started taking steps.

The team say most of the cases surfaced after 2015 and if the council, or the Bar Association (as it was known at the time), had acted with some urgency, these children might have been some of the (alleged) misbehavior of Nonxuba had been saved.

It was not until 2022, and only after court proceedings, that the council appointed a curator to handle the Nonxuba Inc trust account.

That order determined that the council locate the other victims and put together a body of creditors, while it was assumed that an amount of around R100 million was still in the account.

“To date, the council has been unable to demonstrate any completeness or effectiveness regarding this task,” they said.

In August 2013, the council instructed the children’s guardians and parents to approach the Loyalty Fund.

But although claims were submitted, they were not evaluated, and the Trust Fund made no interim payments – evidence that it had failed to consider the constitutionally enshrined rights of children.

“It is an undisputed fact in this matter that all applicants come from rural areas with little or no access to courts. The real applicants are children who are unable to represent themselves.”

The council, in initially opposing the application, argued that it was already in consultation with investigators from the Special Investigation Unit (SUE), the police, the Hawks and other entities to compile a complete and final list of trust creditors , but argued that it is a “complicated task”.

However, the legal team said it amounted to the council abdicating its responsibility to conserve its own resources.

The new agreement sets out an implementation plan with timelines that include advertisements on local radio and television stations inviting potential trust creditors to contact the council’s offices to provide documents supporting their claims.

It also orders the immediate detection of other possible victims with the assistance of the SOE.

In the event that there is not enough money to pay the full amounts of verified claims, the Loyalty Fund must distribute the R100 million on a pro rata basis and consider making up the shortfall.

This post originally appeared on GroundUp.