Law firm faces more questions over state capture claims
UK law watchdog to broaden probe after claims firm helped Zuma to ‘capture’ justice system
London law firm Hogan Lovells is facing fresh scrutiny over its work in South Africa after Britain’s law watchdog broadened an inquiry into it.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is understood to be looking into claims that Hogan Lovells allegedly allowed President Jacob Zuma to “capture” South Africa’s criminal justice system through its work for public officials linked to the president.
The claims were made in a memo sent to the SRA by Paul O’Sullivan, a private investigator at not-for-profit Forensics for Justice.
The SRA will assess whether Hogan Lovells has a case to answer under the UK solicitors’ code of conduct, which includes principles requiring firms to act with integrity, independently and in a way that maintains trust in the legal profession.The watchdog is assessing claims made by Lord Hain, the former anti-apartheid campaigner, that Hogan Lovells produced a “whitewash” report into allegations of money laundering at SARS — claims Hogan Lovells denies.
Among the Hogan Lovells clients whose suitability was questioned by O’Sullivan is Berning Ntlemeza, the former head of the Hawks. Hogan Lovells worked for about two years on a case to try to overturn a March 2015 High Court ruling that Ntlemeza was not fit for the Hawks role.
The original ruling found he was “biased and lacks integrity and honour [and] made false statements under oath”. The ruling was upheld last March by a full bench of High Court judges. Ntlemeza was suspended and retired earlier this month after a further appeal at the Constitutional Court failed in December.O’Sullivan also questioned Hogan Lovells’s work acting for Nathi Nhleko, the former Police minister, in an unsuccessful attempt to uphold the suspension of Robert McBride, the head the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
O’Sullivan claims Hogan Lovells’s actions contributed to “South Africa [having] to suffer a captured criminal justice system for more than two years longer than was necessary”.
The SRA will consider whether to launch a full investigation. Possible sanctions could include referring the firm or individuals to an independent tribunal, which could strike off solicitors. The inquiry has dragged Hogan Lovells into the political storm around Zuma and the Guptas. British firms linked to misconduct by the Guptas have included disgraced PR agency Bell Pottinger, KPMG and management consultancy McKinsey.
An SRA spokesman said: “We are aware of this issue and are collecting all the relevant evidence before deciding on next steps.”
Lavery Modise, the chairman of Hogan Lovells South Africa, said: “I have no doubt that we serve the founding principles of the constitution of this country with professional dignity, professional independence and responsibility. We welcome any review of our work by the appropriate authorities and by parliament.”
– © The Sunday Telegraph