'Judge Yacoob tried to pay me off’ claims sacked Blind and Deaf society director
The Post / 15 March 2019, 10:42am / JANINE MOODLEY
Durban - Text messages and a voice recording have exposed a retired constitutional court judge allegedly offering the sacked director of KZN Blind and Deaf Society money “to make her go away” and drop her CCMA challenge.
In a heated 11-minute phone call, recorded by Shamilla Surjoo, Judge Zak Yacoob can be heard asking her how much money she wanted.
Surjoo replied she was not bought by money and was a person of integrity.
Yacoob then asked: “So what are you bought by? I am disgusted that I trusted you. So now, how much do you want to go away, please man.”
Surjoo referred Yacoob to her lawyer.
“I am not going to speak to your stupid lawyer. Your lawyer is the most idiotic lawyer I have ever seen in the world,” said Yacoob.
An upset Surjoo told Yacoob she wanted the truth to prevail and for the matter to be settled in court, not with Yacoob.
He then retorted: “You were a bad director”, before repeatedly asking Surjoo what she wanted.
She eventually said she wanted to be reinstated.
“The only debate between us is that you think you are a wonderful director and that you should be reinstated. And I think you’re a horrible director and are not to be reinstated,” said Yacoob.
Surjoo accused Yacoob of belittling her.
“You lied to me, and you are not a person of integrity,” said Yacoob.
He then asked her if she had reported the society to the Department of Labour, and she said yes.
“What a stupid woman you are. How dare you bring in suspension? I told them you are the criminal. That you have been horribly negligent in the performance of your duties and I told them that they should not listen to you at all.”
He questioned why she had kept a cellphone belonging to the society and accused her of hiding information.
“That cellphone was not your personal thing. It is the society’s cellphone and should not be used for personal reasons. Why do you want to delete stuff?”
Surjoo accuses him of harassment and then ends the call.
In a statement issued to POST, Surjoo said she refused to be used as a “scapegoat”.
She was fired two weeks ago following a disciplinary hearing on the theft of R12 million from the society.
Surjoo was found guilty of gross negligence, breach of fiduciary duties and loss of trust, by an independent disciplinary committee.
A financial officer who had online authority for four of the organisation’s bank accounts, allegedly transferred funds into her personal accounts from 2013. She reported directly to Surjoo.
She was dismissed in January, but no criminal action has been taken to date.
Surjoo claimed Yacoob had bombarded her with text messages soon after she was dismissed.
One message read: “Name the amount, and I will pay you from my own personal account because I was stupid enough to trust you.”
Surjoo said her attorneys, Cox Yeats, were disputing the fairness of her dismissal at the CCMA and the texts and phone calls were an attempt to make her drop the case.
She was admitted to hospital last week for stress, allegedly emanating from her dismissal.
Surjoo questioned Yacoob’s motives of wanting to “pay me of”.
“If I was negligent, why does he even want to settle with a monetary sum coming from his own pocket? If he dismissed me for the correct reason, why does he fear me proceeding further?”
She said before she was dismissed, a telephone call was made to her on February 11, for her to agree to a re-designated position.
“I do not know where he gets the absurd idea that I would easily be drawn into a ‘bargain’ with him. He is unfortunately mistaken. I will be challenging the patently unfair dismissal, and I will not back down.”
Surjoo said she was well respected in the community, respect which she had earned through more than three decades in the welfare sector.
“He has alleged that the money was stolen under my watch, but why has he not told you that I am also legally blind, with a vision of 6/60 and I am a former pupil of the Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind?
“I am not a signatory to the bank mandates, investment redemptions or annual financial statement reports. The control of overseeing the finances falls directly within the ambit of the treasurer, irrespective of whether it is a paid or voluntary position.
“This is an office bearer who has a critical role to fulfil and responsibility to uphold in accordance with the relevant NPO governing legislation.”
Yesterday, Yacoob admitted to making the call to Surjoo and sending her text messages.
He said he had sent through a written apology to her attorney stating that he would not contact her again.
He also admitted that he offered her money to “make her go away”, but made the call under circumstances where he had been very stressed due to the situation at the organisation.
“I wanted to end all this, but I am very sorry without reservation. I made the call at a very difficult time, as I was upset at what was happening.
“Yes, I offered her money. For her to go away with all the CCMA claims, she was interested in the money above anything else. I was very happy to end the whole debate and said to her let’s end this and try and fix it.”
In the letter to Surjoo’s attorney, Yacoob conveyed his apologies.
“I will off course not call her again. Your client has the right to use lapses as she sees fit. I will not be found in denial or less than honest.”
He said the only reason he had offered her money was because the society did not have the funds to continue with a long, drawn-out court proceeding.
Yacoob also wished Surjoo a speedy recovery and said it was sad that she was in hospital. He added the board was stressed and had endured many sleepless nights.
Surjoo rejected his apology.
“His harassment of me at unreasonable hours of the night cannot simply be swept under the carpet with an emailed apology. The humiliation he has caused me has affected me deeply, and I reserve all my rights in this regard.”