US prosecution 'to proceed' against UCT legal chief

Connecticut authorities debunk claims that dismissal of charges imminent

Questions have been raised about the account given by the embattled deputy-registrar (legal services & secretariat) of the University of Cape Town, Paul Ngobeni, of the status of the criminal charges currently pending against him in the US state of Connecticut.

Ngobeni, who took up his position at UCT in September, had been indefinitely suspended from the practice of law in Connecticut in December 2005. In a judgement issued (in absentia) on October 17 this year he was disbarred for thirteen years. He has subsequently filed a motion for the order to be set-aside.

Ngobeni is also facing various criminal charges in Connecticut. These are of forgery in the 3rd degree, larceny in the 4th degree, larceny in the 3rd degree, larceny in the 6th degree, and a charge of illegal practice of law. He has pleaded not guilty on all of the five counts, and is out on bail of $2,500.

When approached for comment on October 21 Ngobeni told Politicsweb that on the larceny charge the state had "admitted that the claims were untrue." He also claimed, "A decision on a motion to dismiss [the criminal charges] is being prepared by the Judge who indicated in court that a dismissal would ensue."

In a statement on October 26 Gerda Kruger, the head of communications at UCT, said that "Mr Ngobeni has informed the University that these charges have received judicial comment on which basis he believes that they are likely to be dismissed. Mr Ngobeni denies wrongdoing, and states that he confidently expects to be exonerated. He is innocent until proved guilty."

Ngobeni told the Citizen he had not initially told UCT about his trial "as all charges against him would be dropped." And he told the Cape Argus "There is a motion to dismiss these charges. It has been shown that there is no base for the case."

However, these claims have now been contradicted by the office of the chief state attorney, criminal justice division, in Connecticut. A statement issued by spokesman Mark Dupuis - and first reported on in the Citizen on Saturday - said that Ngobeni had only filed a motion to dismiss the least serious charge, that of illegal practice of law:

"The defendant, who is representing himself, filed a motion to dismiss the charge of Practice of Law by Persons not Attorneys and he argued his motion in the Superior Court for the Judicial District of Windham at Danielson, Connecticut, before Judge Antonio C. Robaina. The State of Connecticut (prosecution) argued in opposition to the motion to dismiss.

Judge Robaina has not yet ruled on this motion. Whether or not this motion is granted, the other charges, including the felony charge, are still pending and the state is prepared to proceed notwithstanding the court's ruling on the unauthorized practice of law charge."

In his reaction Ngobeni told Paul Kirk of the Citizen that Dupuis was "peddling lies." He has also attributed the reports on the criminal and misconduct charges against him to a "smear campaign by some whites."

On the issue of whether he had informed UCT of the charges against him Ngobeni told the Cape Times that he did not have to as "the issues of the charges was published on the internet over a year ago. It is public knowledge."

A senior official at UCT contacted last month by Politicsweb said that the university had not known of the charges when Ngobeni was appointed.

Ngobeni is an outspoken defender of Judge John Hlophe, whom he claims is the victim of a racist conspiracy.