Battle over Namandje's books begins

The High Court will be the scene of a heated legal war between one of the country's sought-after lawyers and his regulatory principals.

13 May 2020 | Justice



The battle related to demands by the Law Society of Namibia (LSN) to open the books of lawyer Sisa Namandje, over suspicion it was used as a transmission belt for Fishrot bribes, is set to play out in the Windhoek High Court today.

Opening Namandje's books, which the lawyer insists he has no problem with as long as procedures are followed, could clear the air on whether or not certain individuals benefitted from the scandal that has already landed six men behind bars.

The seven include former Cabinet ministers Bernhardt Esau and Sacky Shanghala.

Swapo has also been fingered as a beneficiary of the scandal, a claim it vehemently denies. Namandje is the ruling party's lawyer.

Last week, the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) challenged the media to produce evidence linking the party and its president Hage Geingob to the scandal.

Friends in high places

South African senior counsel Francois van Zyl, who secured a plea bargain for Mark Thatcher, son of the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher when he was charged with organising a coup in Equatorial Guinea, is among top legal minds that Namandje has hired to help fight off accusations that he helped exacerbate the Fishrot corruption.

Namandje said the LSN's pursuit of his books would violate his clients' confidentiality.

However, the society argues that Namandje's insistence on attorney-client privilege is for his own interest and an attempt to frustrate the investigation into his own alleged unsatisfactory conduct.

The LSN alleged the trust account of Namandje's law firm was used to launder money for the so-called Fishrot Six. It also said this would under no circumstances breach attorney-client privilege because that could get him disbarred.

Off the mark

In her responding affidavit, LSN director Retha Steinmann also said Namandje's claim to attorney-client privilege is far off the mark and his response included allegations and supporting documentation which is largely irrelevant to the application, which is a constitutional challenge.

Steinmann pointed out that the Legal Practitioners Act 15 of 1995, Section 25, overrides any claim to attorney-client privilege and such exclusion is grounded in the statutory functions and duties of the LSN and its members.

“One of the core functions of the LSN is to ensure that its members comply with the strict requirements that apply to the keeping of trust accounts,” she said.

However, Steinmann added that if attorney-client privilege were to apply in this matter, it would apply only to confidential communications between attorney and client made for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or ligation.

No blanket privilege

According to her, it does not extend to the entire client file, which would include documents such as the name and address of clients as well as the pleadings and statements of accounts, invoices and particulars of fees and disbursement.

Steinmann stressed that Namandje cannot simply claim blanket privilege in respect of entire files of unidentified clients as he currently does.

“I further submit that if Namandje's assertion of privilege were genuine and bona fide, he would have complied with LSN request on 30 April to identify the client on whose behalf he asserts privilege so that the application may approach these clients for a waiver.

“The first respondent has failed to do so. This supports the applicant's position that the claim of privilege is not made bona fide and the court is consequently entitled to disregard it,” she said.

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