South Africa

Jacob's Ladder

Zuma launches latest appeal to can corruption trial

Former South Africa President Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is hoping to avoid corruption charges, May 20, 2019. Picture : Jackie Clausen / Pool

Former president Jacob Zuma is not ready to abandon his Stalingrad-style legal battles just yet. In the latest development in the 14-year attempt to bring Zuma to trial for corruption, his lawyers argue that the Pietermaritzburg High Court was wrong to dismiss his bid to permanently stop the trial — and that its reasoning risks plunging South Africa’s legal system into the ‘thrones of anarchy’.

President Jacob Zuma has asked for leave to appeal against the judgment handed down by a full bench of the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 11 October 2019 which found that his corruption trial should go ahead. As things stand, Zuma is due to stand trial in April 2020 alongside French arms company Thales on charges of corruption, racketeering, fraud and tax evasion.

In legal papers filed on 1 November, it is argued that the matter is “one of considerable importance” — not just to Zuma and his co-accused, Thales, but also to “the country”.

There are no new arguments presented by Zuma’s lawyers. Instead, they argue that the high court erred when it failed to recognise “the prejudicial conduct of the NPA against Mr Zuma”. The former president continues to maintain that “unlawful political interference” was behind the prosecuting authority’s original pursuit of him.

His lawyers also maintain that if Zuma was to face trial, he should have done so alongside his former benefactor Schabir Shaik in 2003. The fact that this did not happen amounts to a delay which has “prejudiced Mr Zuma and violated his constitutionally guaranteed rights”, they say.

Zuma’s legal team also contends that Shaik was tried separately, before Zuma, as a “dry run” for Zuma’s prosecution — which they say is a violation of law and the Constitution.

In the high court’s October dismissal of Zuma’s bid to stay his prosecution, the bench found that blame for the delay in Zuma’s trial could not solely be laid at the door of the NPA, but had to be shared by Zuma himself and his legal team for their deferring strategy.

Zuma’s lawyers disagree, contending that “the fact that Mr Zuma exercised his constitutional rights to challenge the conduct of the NPA in its exercise of prosecutorial discretion does not make him liable for the unreasonable delay”.

The crux of the former president’s bid for leave to appeal is the high court’s finding that “the seriousness of the offences that Mr Zuma is facing outweighs any prejudice which he claims he will suffer if the trial proceeds”.

Zuma’s lawyers write: “This statement does not reflect South African law as enshrined in our Constitution and if adopted takes a decent legal system to the thrones [sic] of anarchy and judicial chaos”.

Thales, the company accused of paying bribes to Zuma, has submitted a matching set of legal papers arguing that it, too, will be the subject of a constitutional violation if the prosecution goes ahead.

Lawyers for Thales contend there was no reason to wait so long to prosecute representatives of the arms company, given that the original reasons given in 2009 for withdrawing charges against Zuma — that the former president’s prosecution was politically motivated — did not apply to Thales.

The high court “failed to consider the prejudice suffered by Thales as a result of the nine-year delay in its prosecution”, the court papers state. The October court judgment also acknowledged that, unlike in the case of Zuma, the delay “was through no fault at all of Thales”.

Both matters are set down for 22 November, on which occasion the high court will decide whether Thales and Zuma should be permitted to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal for the prosecutions to be permanently dropped.

It is unclear how Zuma is financing this latest legal bid. In October, the Department of Justice confirmed that the state is no longer footing the former president’s legal bills.

Earlier in 2019, Zuma claimed to supporters that he had to sell socks and hats to cover his legal fees. DM


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