We defend the underdog

The Firm: ‘ We defend the underdog ’

Pictures: JAMES OATWAY and ALON SKUY

THE inconspicuous offices of BDK Attorneys in Johannesburg ’ s city centre are a far cry from those of the flashy and glamorous law firms in Sandton.

There is no one to offer visitors a cappuccino, and the reading material on the coffee table in reception consists mainly of old Afrikaans magazines.

But if these walls could talk . . . The BDK team of legal eagles and their clients from a long list of headlinegrabbing cases could make for a hit TV show.

Clients include underworld figures, killers, reputable businessmen, controversial companies and politicians.

They number presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, fugitive Czech billionaire Radovan Krejcir, the scandalrocked Auction Alliance and even EduSolutions, the company at the centre of one of South Africa’s biggest education debacles.

One can’t help but wonder which one of them last swiped their credit card at the machine at the reception desk — where the brass letters spelling out the firm’s name haven’t seen polish in a while.

The face of BDK Attorneys is consulting attorney Ian Small-Smith, who has specialised in criminal law for 21 years. He was the man who brokered “a deal of a lifetime” for Brett Kebble’s killers, Mikey Schultz, Nigel McGurk and Faizel “Kappie ” Smith, by securing them indemnity from prosecution.

In exchange they testified against drug lord Glenn Agliotti, who was accused of commissioning the 2005 hit on the businessman.

Eyebrows were raised when SmallSmith also emerged as the lawyer for Advocate Gerrie Nel.

Nel was the senior prosecutor handling the Agliotti case when he himself was arrested in what was later said to be the result of political interference in the corruption case against former top cop Jackie Selebi.

The firm is led by attorney Piet du Plessis, a former prosecutor and “Lions supporter”, who this week was hesitant to talk about what makes the law firm one of the most sought after in South Africa.

“We really don’t need the publicity,” he said. Du Plessis, who once represented apartheid hit-squad killer Ferdi Barnard, added: “We have represented people from the far right to the other end of the political spectrum. All we care about is the client.”

Du Plessis said he didn’t believe BDK was more special than any other law firm. But he quickly added: “We ’ re good at what we do.”

The team comprises 12 lawyers — many of them former prosecutors who know the legal system inside out.

A senior Johannesburg prosecutor, when asked about the firm’s reputation in legal circles, said: “They zoom in on the most microscopic of detail. You know you are in for a proper battle if you come up against them.”

BDK attorney Jannie Kruger successfully defended reality-TV star turned security consultant “Bad” Brad Wood on murder charges after four illegal miners were killed at an Aurora mine in Springs, east of Johannesburg, in 2010.

Wood told the Sunday Times: “I can understand why people with some serious trouble will go to them. You know what it’s like out there . . . people talk about which lawyers know what they ’ re doing.”

President Jacob Zuma, when he faced corruption charges in 2009, called on Small-Smith. Other clients the firm has acted for include:

management company, Wasteman, which faced a variety of criminal charges relating to the dumping of medical waste in 2009. The case has since been struck from the roll but might still be re-opened;

giant Netcare following a cash-for-kidneys scandal. It entered into a plea bargain; and

Nelson Mandela’s son-in-law, Dr Isaac Amuah, who the firm helped to fight off an extradition bid to face rape charges in the US.

Currently the firm is acting for millionaire businessman Zunaid Moti, who is facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

Despite accusations from some quarters that the firm represents dubious characters “and even gangsters ”, Du Plessis said he and his staff “sleep peacefully ” at night.

He said the relationship his lawyers had with clients was strictly professional.

“It’s what we do,” he said, pointing to the 24-hour hotline on his business card.

“My attitude is simple. You have the state with all its machinery and resources going up against Joe Soap. We defend the underdog . . . the justice system is the only thing that stands between the country’s democracy and a descent into chaos.”

In legal circles and among the police, BDK Attorneys are sometimes mockingly referred to as “Die Liegfabriek” (The Lie Factory).

Said a smiling Du Plessis: “I’ve heard that one before. It doesn’t matter how awful the alleged crime is, everyone has the right to legal representation.”