R17.5m OS­CAR’S LE­GAL HEADACHE

CityPress - - News - DEB­ORA PATTA news@city­press.co.za

Os­car Pis­to­rius has racked up lawyers’ bills amount­ing to R17.5 mil­lion – and he can­not pay them.

The ath­lete, sentenced to five years in jail on Tues­day for killing his girl­friend, Reeva Steenkamp, is broke and still owes his lawyers in the re­gion of R10 mil­lion. City Press un­der­stands that 27-year-old Pis­to­rius’ fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is so dire that his high-pow­ered le­gal team – led by Ad­vo­cate Barry Roux SC, and which in­cluded Ad­vo­cate Kenny Old­wage and at­tor­ney Brian Web­ber – has been rep­re­sent­ing him free of charge for at least the past two months.

A source close to the Pis­to­rius fam­ily said his le­gal bill now stands at R17.5 mil­lion, and about R10 mil­lion is still out­stand­ing.

Dur­ing his clos­ing ar­gu­ments be­fore Pis­to­rius’ sen­tenc­ing this week, Roux told the North Gaut­eng High Court and Judge Thokozile Masipa that his client had “no fur­ther funds avail­able and is in fact hope­lessly in debt as a con­se­quence of the in­ci­dent and the du­ra­tion of the trial”.

“He has for some time now had no more funds to pay for his out­stand­ing le­gal fees and costs, and is liv­ing in the house of his un­cle.”

How­ever, City Press un­der­stands the fam­ily is not keen to pay the bill and a dis­pute is brew­ing over it.

A source close to the fam­ily said there was “def­i­nitely great un­hap­pi­ness” about the le­gal fees which were “much higher” than the fam­ily ex­pected.

Pis­to­rius’ un­cle, Arnold Pis­to­rius, has told fam­ily mem­bers he is con­sid­er­ing hav­ing the bill “taxed and as­sessed”.

Any client un­happy with their le­gal costs can ap­proach the Tax­ing Master of the court for a “tax­a­tion of costs”. The le­gal team would need to jus­tify the rea­son­able­ness of the costs be­ing claimed, and the is­sue is then de­cided by the Tax­ing Master.

A source close to the le­gal team says Arnold Pis­to­rius has re­fused to cover the out­stand­ing amount, be­liev­ing his nephew should be re­spon­si­ble for the bill.

But Pis­to­rius – who was es­ti­mated to earn about R20 mil­lion a year be­fore the 2012 London Olympics – has no more money, so the bill has been sent to his un­cle.

City Press un­der­stands there was ten­sion be­tween Roux and Arnold Pis­to­rius, who tried to in­flu­ence the di­rec­tion of the case but was told to butt out. A source close to the le­gal team said his opin­ion was not wel­come, given his re­fusal to set­tle out­stand­ing fees. How­ever, the dis­pute over the bill may not end up in a fight. A con­fi­dant of Barry Roux told City Press Roux “is a stayer and not the kind of per­son to walk away from the case”.

“Barry has said not ev­ery­thing is about money, and he is ex­tremely doubt­ful he will ever see what he is owed,” the con­fi­dant said.

Roux de­clined to com­ment on the bill this week. Pis­to­rius fam­ily spokesper­son An­neliese Burgess said Arnold Pis­to­rius was out of town and she was un­able to alert him to City Press’s en­quiry.

The state has another week to de­cide whether they will ap­peal Judge Thokozile Masipa’s judg­ment, which found Pis­to­rius not guilty of mur­der but guilty of the lesser charge of cul­pa­ble homi­cide. On Fri­day, Wits law pro­fes­sor James Grant tweeted that pros­e­cu­tor Ger­rie Nel had asked for his ad­vice on whether the state should ap­peal.

“I can con­firm that Ad­vo­cate Nel has con­sulted me for ad­vice and as­sis­tance if he ap­peals. I have ad­vised that he should ap­peal and agreed to as­sist,” he said.

Should an ap­peal go ahead, Pis­to­rius will need his lawyers and it re­mains to be seen whether Roux will con­tinue with the case.

A source close to the Pis­to­rius fam­ily said his lawyers spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time pre­par­ing the ath­lete for a prison sen­tence.

And a source close to the le­gal team said Pis­to­rius re­ceived the sen­tence Roux ex­pected, and that Roux told Pis­to­rius the pub­lic would never for­give him if he did not serve some time be­hind bars.

Pis­to­rius, the fam­ily source said, has also ac­cepted that his ath­let­ics ca­reer is over and that he will never par­tic­i­pate again. He hasn’t trained for 18 months.

City Press un­der­stands that the R17.5 mil­lion le­gal bill con­sists not only of Roux’s le­gal fees and that of his team, but also some of the ex­perts who tes­ti­fied in Pis­to­rius’ de­fence dur­ing the trial.

Ear­lier this year Pis­to­rius sold his home in the Sil­ver Woods Coun­try Es­tate where he shot Steenkamp on Valen­tine’s Day last year, mak­ing a profit of less than R1 mil­lion. He also sold two smaller prop­er­ties in Pre­to­ria East’s Weep­ing Wil­lows Es­tate for less than R600 000, and a va­cant lot in the West Coast town of Lange­baan, north of Cape Town, for R1.1 mil­lion.

Pis­to­rius also sold his car for R375 000 – ini­tially to give the money to Steenkamp’s par­ents in com­pen­sa­tion for the loss of their daugh­ter. How­ever, June and Barry Steenkamp re­jected this money, say­ing they didn’t want any­thing from him. The cou­ple, whose R6 000 monthly rent for their house in Port El­iz­a­beth was paid by Pis­to­rius, have dropped their law­suit against him.

“We half-de­pended on the man who shot our daugh­ter, but we didn’t have any other choice,” June Steenkamp told You Mag­a­zine in an in­ter­view pub­lished this week. They also re­port­edly said they would re­pay Pis­to­rius all the money they re­ceived from him.

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