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Block ‘too broke’ to pay for defamation case

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Former ANC provincial chairperson John Block, who is facing a R1.5 million defamation suit, apparently does not have the funds to pay the claim instituted by retired Northern Cape High Court judge president Frans Kgomo.

John Block. File picture: Soraya Crowie

FORMER ANC provincial chairperson John Block, who is facing a R1.5 million defamation suit, apparently does not have the funds to pay the claim instituted by retired Northern Cape High Court judge president Frans Kgomo.

The lawsuit that was made against Block, his former legal representative, the late Dali Mjila, and another attorney, Nano Matlala, was reduced from an initial amount of R2.5 million.

During closing arguments in the Northern Cape High Court this week, Block’s legal representative, Lulama Lobi, advised that his client was “only surviving” financially.

“It is unfair to expect Block to pay this amount. It requires deep pockets.”

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Matlala, who was identified for alerting Mjila about a telephone conversation between Kgomo and Judge Mmathebe Violet Phatshoane, denied any knowledge that the exchange had taken place.

The conversation is believed to have originated after an unidentified judge overheard Phatshoane informing Kgomo that she did not have grounds to convict Block, when he allegedly advised her to “convict the bastard”.

Phatshoane sentenced Block to 15 years imprisonment after he was convicted for unduly benefiting after facilitating government leases with the Trifecta group of companies in 2016.

Matlala claimed that he suffered a loss of R4.5 million in defending a “frivolous lawsuit”.

The legal representative for Kgomo, advocate Sean Rosenberg SC, believed that the telephone conversation was fabricated by Block and Mjila in order to disrupt the criminal proceedings.

“Block was in a desperate position. He was not an innocent and uninformed client. He was fighting for his life and was prepared to do whatever he needed to avoid facing a long jail term.”

He pointed out that Mjila was not prepared to go under oath to testify about the “concocted story”.

“He would be ill-advised to allow a claim of this nature that amounted to a grossly dishonest and unfounded attack on the judiciary. Block was a high-profile political leader at the time, where the defamatory claims were disseminated to the public through the media. The integrity of the bench must be protected.”

Retired Northern Cape High Court judge president Frans Kgomo, his legal representative, advocate Sean Rosenberg SC, and instructing attorney Peter Horn. Picture: Sandi Kwon Hoo

Rosenberg added that Block wanted Phatshoane to recuse herself from his criminal trial as he was convinced that she was biased against him.

“The claims that were made by an experienced and influential politician cannot be brushed aside. The attorney from which the claims originated gave the story impact. As an officer of the court, he should have known better.”

The legal representative for Block, Lulama Lobi, stated that his client, in pursuit of his legal rights to a fair trial, had brought an application to have the charges withdrawn against him.

“He requested for the criminal trial to be postponed pending the outcome of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), upon the advice of senior counsel.”

He queried why Kgomo was pursuing a matter that had occurred seven years ago.

“Block was prepared to apologise to Judge Kgomo. A central figure to the alleged defamation is no more (Mjila) and no one is able to challenge his version. The court must accept that he had taken Block under his wing and concocted the story. ”

He pointed out that Kgomo’s career was catapulted to greater heights in spite of the allegations.

“He suffered no harm, while Judge Phatshoane never sued for damages. A judge stepped down to wrestle with an accused person who wanted to execute his rights. I wonder which of the two judges is fair, just, impartial and impassioned.”

Kgomo was appointed as head of the complaints unit for the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation in 2017.

Lobi stated that Block had merely requested Phatshoane to postpone delivering judgment on his criminal matter until the JSC had investigated the allegations against her.

The JSC dismissed the complaint against Phatshoane.

The legal representative for Mjila, Sanele Mjila, believed that the meeting involving Block, Matlala and Mjila at the Protea Hotel on October 24, 2016, to discuss their next course of action in reaction to the telephone conversation, could not have been fabricated.

“There were too many personalities involved and it was too complex to concoct this story. Mjila had no reason to believe that the information that was revealed to him by an admitted attorney was not made in good faith.

“Given the seriousness of the information, which he was fully aware was based on hearsay evidence, he sought advice from senior counsel Moses Mphaga regarding the most ethical manner in which to proceed.”

He added that Mjila had a legal duty to inform his client of any potential bias, even if it amounted to hearsay evidence.

“Mjila was advised to investigate the veracity of the claim, whereupon a complaint was filed with the JSC.”

Matlala’s legal representative, advocate MacGregor Kufa, stated that Kgomo’s lawsuit and punitive claim for damages amounted to an abuse of powers.

“The so-called telephone call never took place, while both judges completely denied uttering those words. Matlala rejects any suggestion that he conveyed this information to Mjila. It is outrageous and unsubstantiated. Someone needs to be sanctioned for making these remarks.”

Judge Nathan Erasmus will deliver his judgment electronically.

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