Namibia: Namandje Fights to Block Inspection of Records

THE hearing of a case in which Windhoek-based lawyer Sisa Namandje is trying to prevent the Law Society of Namibia from obtaining a warrant that would allow it to search through his law firm's financial records is due to continue for a second day in the High Court today.

Senior counsel Raymond Heathcote, who is leading the team of lawyers representing Namandje and his law firm, Sisa Namandje & Co Inc, argued before judge Herman Oosthuizen yesterday that the principle that a legal practitioner's client must be able to consult his lawyer in confidence was at the centre of the dispute that has landed Namandje and the Law Society in court as opponents.

Heathcote remarked that not only the Law Society, but also people discussing and commenting on the case, are asking why Namandje does not simply give the lawyers' body permission to search though records at his office to check whether his firm's trust account has been used as a channel for money laundering in the past.

The answer to that question, he said, could be found in one of the society's own rules, which states that legal practitioners would breach their professional standards if they were to breach attorney-client privilege, which is the duty not to disclose information that a client entrusts to his lawyer in confidence.

The hearing before judge Oosthuizen flows from an application in which the Law Society is asking the court to grant a search and seizure warrant that would authorise it to enter the offices of Sisa Namandje & Co Inc and seize records as part of an investigation of the use of the firm's trust account to allegedly channel payments connected to the Fishrot fishing quotas corruption scandal.

In a sworn statement filed at the court, the director of the Law Society, Retha Steinmann, is alleging that undercover visual recordings that were part of a documentary programme broadcast by the Al Jazeera television channel late last year indicate that Namandje expressed readiness to facilitate money laundering using his firm's trust account, and that it appeared the trust account had been used for the same purpose in the past as well.

Steinmann also claims that Namandje has been refusing to cooperate with the Law Society in its investigation, necessitating its application for a search and seizure warrant.

In an answering affidavit, Namandje not only denies suggestions that the trust account of his firm had been used for money laundering and that he may have facilitated bribery, but accuses the Law Society of irregularly trying to have the firm's accounts inspected and denies that the firm has refused to cooperate with the inspection.

He also says he has repeatedly offered to have a meeting with the Law Society in person, but his offer has been refused, and charges that it is the Law Society, rather than he and his firm, which has been uncooperative by refusing to provide him with information about the allegations made against him and his firm to enable them to respond to those claims.

Heathcote also argued yesterday that the Legal Practitioners Act does not give the director of the Law Society the power to embark on litigation on its behalf, and charged that it was Steinmann, rather than the council of the Law Society, who decided Namandje was obstructing efforts to inspect his firm's records and that the lawyers' body should ask the court to authorise a search and seizure warrant.

On behalf of the Law Society, Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile said it was trying to investigate the use of the trust account of Namandje's law firm, and not to investigate his clients, in an effort to confirm or disprove the statements Namandje was shown making in the Al Jazeera documentary.

She also argued that while Namandje was claiming he was willing to cooperate with the Law Society, his conduct showed he was not willing to cooperate, and that this was the reason why the Law Society applied to the court for a search and seizure warrant.

Katjipuka-Sibolile is due to continue with her address to the judge today.

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