Road Accident Fund ordered to pay up despite appeal
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Pretoria - The Road Accident Fund (RAF) must pay up, even though it is appealing against a judgment that it paid the outstanding money into the trust account of a Centurion law firm that attached its assets.
Earlier, Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, Judge Peter Mabuse had strong words for RAF chief executive Collins Letsoalo, who said Ehlers Attorneys was suspected of “impropriety”.
This was in an application lodged by the RAF to suspend all writs issued against it by the attorneys in a bid to retrieve its money, pending the outcome of an SAPS investigation into the firm’s trust account.
Letsoalo claimed there was impropriety regarding the firm’s trust account, which the company vehemently denied. The firm said it had no idea it was being investigated until it had received a letter in that regard from the RAF’s attorneys.
In giving Letsoalo a tongue-lashing earlier, the judge said: “The respondent (the RAF) claims that the applicant’s (Ehlers Attorneys) trust account is inflicted by imperfection or impropriety, as Mr Letsoalo put it, but (he) has not proved these allegations.”
The judge questioned how Letsoalo knew what was going on in the law firm’s trust accounts.
He made it clear that the RAF was constitutionally mandated to pay the claims of road accident victims.
The judge said: “The respondent (RAF) has openly exhibited a clear tendency to have no regard for court orders, as shown by its failure to implement the order of the full court.”
This referred to an earlier order made by three judges which said that the RAF had to pay proven claims that were 180 days and older by the end of April.
Letsoalo earlier told the court that the RAF had no problem paying but it refused to pay the money into the firm’s trust account because of the SAPS investigation.
Judge Mabuse said Letsoalo failed to prove any wrongdoing on the part of the law firm and, besides, he could not choose into whose account to pay the money owed.
“It is unheard of and unprecedented for a debtor to bypass the creditor’s attorney and pay directly to the creditor,” the judge said.
The RAF tried to get out of its obligations to pay the firm, by making unsubstantiated accusations, he said.
Judge Mabuse questioned how a law firm was supposed to retrieve its costs from a client if the fund paid the money directly into their accounts.
Ehlers Attorneys told the court that the RAF failed to pay R89 844 054 with regard to its clients and more than R15m towards costs owing to the firm.
Ehlers Attorneys made headlines last month when it attached the assets of the Transport Ministry after the court ordered the RAF to pay up, but it did not.
Shortly afterwards, the RAF filed an application for leave to appeal against the judgment, which was turned down by Judge Mabuse. He said the fact remained that the RAF had to pay and that it could not hide behind its unsubstantiated allegations of impropriety.
In the latest development, Ehlers Attorneys was once again successful.
It asked that the RAF pay, even though it may petition the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against Judge Mabuse’s judgment.
The firm said that without payment from the RAF, it may close its doors.
Judge Mabuse ordered that even if the RAF persisted in asking for leave to appeal, it would not suspend his order to pay up.
He said the RAF had said that by the end of March, it had R3.2 billion in its account – thus there was enough money to pay.