Attorney Lesley Ramulifho. (Photo: GroundUp, taken from Instagram)
- Judgment has been reserved in a case between GroundUp and the Legal Practice Council.
- GroundUp took the council to court for dismissing a lawsuit against attorney Lesley Ramulifho.
- The lawyer is accused of improperly benefiting from R60 million in Lotto grants.
Judgment has been reserved in a fight between a news agency and the watchdog for a lawyer who failed to investigate claims of lottery grant fraud and other dubious dealings by a Pretoria lawyer.
On Thursday, the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg reserved judgment in a case between GroundUp, a community-focused news publisher, and the Legal Practice Council (LPC).
This follows events surrounding lawyer Lesley Ramulifho, who was accused by GroundUp of profiting from R60 million in lottery grants.
The NPO further claimed that Ramulifho submitted doctored financial documents in an attempt to prove his innocence.
GroundUp and journalist Ray Joseph have been at the forefront of exposing fraud and corruption at the National Lottery Commission.
Appearing in an online trial, attorney Nick Ferreira, representing GroundUp, alleged that Ramulifho had committed fraud and perjury by submitting forged documents, but did not have to answer the charges because the LPC failed to investigate his conduct.
Ferreira argued that since the Legal Practice Law required the LPC to investigate the complaints, the council failed to fulfill its legal mandate.
READ | Lottery Scam: The Story So Far
He said the fact that an investigation had not been carried out before the complaint was dismissed showed that the council did not follow legal procedure.
LPC attorney Ri Schoeman argued that the fraud and perjury charges fell within the jurisdiction of the police and that the LPC should wait until after the police investigation to do its own investigation.
Given this, Judge Seena Yacoob asked:
Where there is overlap, isn’t it better for everyone to investigate rather than [the case] falling through the cracks?
Schoeman maintained that the accusations must first be proven by an authority other than the LPC, saying “nothing stops [GroundUp] to file a new complaint with better evidence”.
He added that the court of appeal was already operational and the applicant should go to court instead of court.
In a statement published in May last year, the NPO said it tried to appeal the decision, but was told that it was not possible because the entity had not yet established an appeal court.
In response, Ferreira argued that the LPC did have jurisdiction as a watchdog.
And that when the same conduct constitutes a crime and a professional misconduct, the police and the LPC must investigate simultaneously since both have jurisdiction.
In articles published last year, GroundUp accused Ramulifho of being a lottery thief whose nonprofits benefited from at least R60 million in Lottery grants.
GroundUp claimed that the lawyer tried to get the articles that mentioned his name removed by the courts.
The group said that Ramulifho submitted court documents that included forged documents.
In a statement, GroundUp included an anomalous FNB bank statement as an example of the forgeries it provided to prove it had not embezzled lottery money.
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He complained to the LPC and filed charges with the police.
The LPC investigation committee dismissed the complaint against Ramulifho without a disciplinary hearing.
The LPC said that GroundUp did not prove its case.
In a statement, the NPO said it tried to appeal the decision but was told it was impossible because the entity had not yet established an appeal court.
“This left us no recourse but to ask the Gauteng High Court to review the LPC’s decision.
“That this matter has not been investigated and has never gone to a disciplinary hearing is an injustice. That we have not been able to use the LPC’s internal appeal mechanism is disgraceful,” GroundUp editors stated.