Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

Paul Ngobeni, Mkhwebane’s CR17 legal advisor, not registered with Legal Practice Council 

'Anyone practicing without being duly qualified and listed is contravening the law,' the council says.

Fugitive lawyer and former ministerial advisor Paul Ngobeni is not permitted to render any legal services in South Africa, as he is not registered as a legal practitioner.

This is according to the Legal Practice Council (LPC), who confirmed that their records indicate that “he does not appear on the Roll of Legal Practitioners (practicing and non-practicing)”.

Last week, Muntu Sithole, the manager for legal services at the office of the Public Protector, testified that Ngobeni was allegedly paid R96 000 to pen a legal opinion for advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s investigation into President Cyril Ramaphosa’s CR17 campaign.

He also revealed that the Public Protector’s office allegedly paid Ngobeni R87 000 to write opinion pieces – published on AfricaNews24-7 – slamming former Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and then Minister of State Security Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, who were critical of Mkhwebane.

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Sithole was testifying about Mkhwebane’s legal bills, where he told the Section 194 Committee that this totalled R158-million in “consulting and professional fees”, R147 million of which was spent on “legal fees” alone – including the alleged payments made to Ngobeni.

During the cross-examination, Sithole also said no due diligence was conducted out by the Public Protector’s office before Ngobeni’s appointment.

He further said Ngobeni – who was allegedly “briefed as an advocate, not a senior counsel” – had consulted with Mkhwebane’s personal legal representative, Matome Seanego of Seanego Attorneys Inc.

Contravening the law

While the LPC indicated that it “cannot comment on his activities or any details around activities at the Public Protector’s office”, the Section 33(2) of the Legal Practice Act states that “no person other than a legal practitioner may hold himself or herself out as a legal practitioner or make any representation or use any type or description indicating or implying that he or she is a legal practitioner”.

“Legal practitioners within South Africa are required by law to be registered with the Legal Practice Council as stipulated by the Legal Practice Act,” LPC spokesperson, Kabelo Letebele told The Citizen on Monday.

“Anyone practicing without being duly qualified and listed is contravening the law and is therefore holding out to be a legal practitioner, which is a criminal offence.”

Asked what action the LPC can take if Ngobeni is not registered, Letebele said: “The LPC, any organisation, or member of the public can formally open a criminal case when any person misrepresents themselves as a legal practitioner.”

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He further highlighted that the LPC “unfortunately” only has jurisdiction over legal practitioners registered with the council.

“Our powers are limited in this regard. We therefore encourage and will assist the aggrieved parties to lodge a complaint with the South African Police Services [SAPS], as this has to be treated as a criminal matter” he added.

Ngobeni does not appear as a member on the website of the National Bar Council of South Africa (NBCSA).

Meanwhile, the Public Protector’s office informed The Citizen that it was “not in a position to comment on the grounds that the matter is before the Section 194 committee”.

“Otherwise, we might come across as engaging in a parallel process and undermining the committee’s work,” Public Protector spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, said.

US disbarment

Ngobeni was disbarred from legal practice by the United States (US) Supreme Court in 2011 and was described as a fugitive from justice in a 2012 report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela, on his appointment as a Special Adviser in the Ministry for Defence and Military Veterans.

He was said to be practicing as an attorney in Connecticut when allegations of professional misconduct against him surfaced, as a result of which he was suspended from the Bar Council in 2005.

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The lawyer was facing a series of criminal charges – including larceny, forgery, and the illegal practice of law.

Ngobeni and the University of Cape Town (UCT) parted ways in 2009 after the Democratic Alliance (DA) raised the alarm about his fugitive status.

He was appointed as the Deputy Registrar at the university in 2007.

The Citizen has reached out to Ngobeni for comment and this article will be updated once a response has been received.

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