South Africa


Supreme Court torpedoes Zuma’s latest bid to wriggle out of long-running Arms Deal charges

Supreme Court torpedoes Zuma’s latest bid to wriggle out of long-running Arms Deal charges
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photos: EPA-EFE / Mike Hutchings / EPA-EFE / Kium Ludbrook / Pool)

Unless former president Jacob Zuma’s legal team manages to wrangle another loophole to continue their client’s Stalingrad strategy to delay his criminal case, the Arms Deal matter will finally be going to trial on 11 April.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) dismissed Zuma’s latest attempt this week to quash charges he faces as having “no reasonable prospect of success”.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Zuma still punts the myth of political persecution in his long-running battle to avoid prison

The court was asked by Zuma’s legal team to hear their client’s case after he unsuccessfully asked the Pietermaritzburg High Court, in terms of Section 106 of the Criminal Procedure Act, to have the lead prosecutor in the corruption case, Billy Downer, removed from the trial, claiming he had “no title to prosecute”. Should he have succeeded in this, Zuma claimed he would have been entitled to an immediate acquittal. 

In a letter stamped 30 March and sent to Zuma’s legal team and the State, the SCA court registrar wrote: 

“Having considered the notice of motion and the other documents filed, it is ordered that the application for leave to appeal is dismissed with costs on the grounds that there is no reasonable prospect of success in an appeal and there is no other compelling reason why an appeal should be heard.”

On 26 May 2021, Zuma indicated to Judge Piet Koen of the Pietermaritzburg High Court – who will be hearing the trial – that he would be bringing a special plea application before the court. On the same day Zuma and his co-accused, French arms manufacturer Thales, pleaded not guilty to charges related to the 1999 Arms Deal in which Thales is accused of making payments to Zuma in order to help the multinational secure lucrative defence contracts. 

Koen dismissed the special plea application on October 2021, saying “many” of the items raised by Zuma’s legal team in support thereof were “based on speculation or suspicion or are based on inadmissible hearsay evidence and not on fact”.

In February, Koen denied Zuma leave to appeal against that judgment, stating that the trial should proceed. He said Zuma could challenge the special plea judgment after the criminal trial was completed.

On 9 March, Zuma petitioned the Judge President of the SCA for direct access to the court after being denied access by Koen.

On 17 March, he also lodged an application with the Pietermaritzburg High Court to delay his trial pending the finalisation of the SCA petition.

Advocate Billy Downer. (Photo: Sandile Ndlovu) | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: EFE-EPA / Jon Hrusa)

The ruling by the SCA will make the 17 March application moot, clearing the path for the trial to start. 

Zuma wanted to tell the SCA, as he had previously told Koen, that Downer lacks “independence and impartiality” and that his impending trial had already been tainted by political and unlawful meddling, specifically involving the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and, by extension, Downer. Zuma claimed that Downer would therefore be unable to conduct a “lawful prosecution” that will uphold Zuma’s constitutional rights to a fair trial.

Zuma is accused of receiving 791 payments, totalling R4.1-million, between 1995 and 2004 from his former financial adviser/economic adviser, Schabir Shaik, and Shaik’s companies, to help Thales (accused number two) secure lucrative defence contracts from the government as part of South Africa’s armaments deal.

Downer was part of the original team that successfully secured Shaik’s conviction in 2005. Shaik was released on medical parole in March 2009.

Zuma is facing one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud. Thales is facing one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption and one count of money laundering.

Zuma was first indicted on 20 June 2005.  

The trial is set down to begin on 11 April. DM


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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    And then we have to endure more of the same claptrap for weeks on end, more denials, more appeals (!!) and ultimately, a safe little sick note that will see the Teflon Scoundrel scurrying back to his harem in Nkandla…giggling all the way to the bank, as it were.
    Repeat ad nauseum.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    I see a sick note coming

  • Anne Felgate says:

    At last!!
    Unless he manages another Stalingrad manoeuvre
    At least he isn’t sleeping soundly

  • Johan Buys says:

    prediction engine : new legal team before next court date.

    It will just be more attorneys and advocates to add to the list of so-called professionals to add to the AVOID list. Eventually they might run out of despicable clients

    • Jeremy Doveton-Helps says:

      Would be interesting to know which new stooge is funding the endless petitioning… or it is simply that there truly is ‘no fool like’… ?

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