Former president Jacob Zuma’s attempts to have arms deal-related charges thrown out of court was once again rejected on Friday as the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg dismissed his application for leave to appeal an earlier judgment.
In October, a full bench of the court dismissed his permanent stay of prosecution application to have charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering dropped, saying that the seriousness of the offences far outweighed any prejudices Zuma might face due to the 15-year delay in prosecution.
Zuma has been charged alongside French arms company Thales, which is accused of bribing him to provide protection from investigations into its contacts in the multi-billion rand arms deal.
On Friday, the high court dismissed Zuma and Thales’s applications to appeal the judgment rejecting their stay of prosecution applications. Both parties were ordered to pay the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) legal costs.
A week ago, Zuma’s legal representative Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane argued that the court had made errors in law when rejecting the stay of prosecution application. He said the court should have weighed the seriousness of the charges with the alleged political interference in bringing Zuma’s case to court.
During his stay of prosecution application, Zuma argued that the case should be dropped because the lengthy delay in prosecution had violated his right to a fair trial. He also claimed political interference by former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration and collusion between NPA and Scorpions leaders had violated his constitutional rights and undermined the case against him.
Sikhakhane repeated many of the same arguments in the application to appeal the failed permanent stay of prosecution and said the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) could make a different finding.
Senior prosecutor Billy Downer told the court Zuma’s appeal had no chances of success and “Mr Zuma’s continuation of his Stalingrad defence tactics is a compelling reason why the appeal should not be heard”.
Rejecting Zuma’s appeal application means the high court found he would have no reasonable chances of success in the SCA. Friday’s court judgment found no merits in Zuma’s arguments.
The three judges, Jerome Mnguni, Esther Steyn and Poyo Dlwati, also criticised the language Zuma used in the affidavit he submitted in his leave to appeal application, which Sikhakhane apologised for during the hearing.
They said Zuma’s comments “do not belong in a proper court process”.
“Without diverting our focus from the issues in this application, we deem it necessary to voice our displeasure on the disrespectful manner in which this court was addressed in Mr Zuma’s notice of application for leave to appeal.
“In our view, comments or allegations that are scandalous or vexatious to the court ought to be avoided at all costs, as they can bring the administration of justice into disrepute. They can also undermine the public’s confidence in the courts and disturb the moral authority of judicial process,” reads the judgment.
It continues: “In our view, comments or allegations that are scandalous or vexatious to the court ought to be avoided at all costs, as they can bring the administration of justice into disrepute. They can also undermine the public’s confidence in the courts and disturb the moral authority of judicial process.”
Zuma may choose to apply to the SCA directly to appeal the judgment, but the prospects of it hearing his case are unlikely after a full bench has unanimously ruled against him multiple times in the matter.
The charges relate to alleged payments Zuma received from Thales, through his financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted in 2005. The former president is accused of using his political influence to protect the company from investigations into Thales and for allegedly trying to solicit a R500,000 bribe from the company.
On multiple occasions, charges were laid and then dropped against Zuma before former NPA boss Mokotedi Mpshe decided to withdraw them in 2009. The DA spent years in court trying to have Mpshe’s decision declared irrational and the charges reinstated.
Former NPA leader Shaun Abrahams reinstated the charges in 2018 after Zuma and the NPA eventually admitted in the SCA that Mpshe’s decision was irrational.
“Despite his own repeated assertion that he will welcome the opportunity to have his day in court, Mr Zuma has done everything in his power to resist being held accountable for the alleged criminal activities in which he was involved during the ‘Arms Deal’,” said DA shadow justice minister Glynnis Breytenbach in a statement on Friday.
“The DA is encouraged by the ruling of the court today, as it reaffirms our belief that Jacob Zuma should eventually have to face his day in court.” DM