Pretoria, South Africa: Former South African president Jacob Zuma is in court facing charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering. Zuma, 77, appeared at the High Court in Pietermaritzburg in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province Monday on charges of receiving bribes when the government purchased arms in 1999.
Jacob Zuma’s new legal team will use the next few days, starting on Monday, to try to prove that the application for a permanent stay of prosecution has “great potential” to end criminal charges against the former president.
At Zuma’s last court appearance in November, advocate Michael Hellens, who is leading the defence team, confidently told the Pietermaritzburg High Court that the highly anticipated application would be “the end of the matter” and that Zuma would not stand trial.
These are the five things that you need to know about this round of the court proceedings, which are set to end on Friday:
If Zuma’s bid succeeds, he will be permanently off the hook. If his application fails, Zuma will face 16 charges that include fraud‚ corruption and racketeering. These charges relate to 783 payments which he allegedly received as a bribe to protect Thales from an investigation into the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal. The alleged bribe was facilitated by Zuma’s then financial adviser Schabir Shaik.
Zuma’s legal team will argue that there has been an unreasonable delay in prosecution, which is a breach of the constitutional right to a fair trial. It will also attempt to prove that there were so many irregularities and political interference that Zuma will not be tried fairly. The so-called spy tapes – which are recordings of phone conversations between then National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and then Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy, discussing the timing for prosecuting Zuma in order to boost the chances of Thabo Mbeki winning re-election – will be at the heart of this argument.
Lead prosecutor Billy Downer wants the High Court to strike out several “scandalous and vexatious” statements made by Zuma in his application. Downer has called the statements – which claim that he hates Zuma, is blinded by an obsession with convicting the former president and that some in the National Prosecuting Authority may have “apartheid withdrawal symptoms” – untrue and unwarranted.
Zuma’s co-accused, French arms company Thales, is also applying for a permanent stay of prosecution. Ahead of its application Thales issued a statement in which it maintained that it would also not receive a fair trial due to a “very long delay” in proceedings and factors that were out of its control.
A full bench will be presiding over Zuma’s matter. It has been reported that Zuma’s legal team, unhappy over the decision, had formally requested that the Pietermaritzburg High Court judge president provide reasons as to why three judges were given the case. However, all indications are that a full bench will be in court on Monday when his application is heard.
Zuma was South Africa’s president from 2009 until 2018, when he was forced to resign by his ruling African National Congress party amid persistent allegations of corruption.
The criminal charges against Zuma were first raised more than 10 years ago but were withdrawn by the National Prosecution Authority in 2008. The charges were reinstated after a court ruled that there are sufficient grounds to bring him to trial.
Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was in 2005 convicted of fraud and corruption.