Zuma defence ponders approaching ConCourt after SCA dismisses ‘special plea’ in arms deal graft case
Former president Jacob Zuma was first indicted over the Arms Deal in 2005. In the latest chapter in the saga, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed his latest application for a special plea for dismissal of his case. The case shall proceed on 15 August, though the indefatigable defence have not played their last move.
Jacob Zuma’s legal team is “mulling” over the decision by Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president judge Mandisa Maya not to grant access for a hearing of his dismissed special plea, the spokesperson for the former president’s eponymous foundation told Daily Maverick, adding that the team would decide on an approach to the Constitutional Court with the same matter “very soon”.
“There has not been a definite pronouncement on a way forward [by the legal team] yet,” said foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi.
In a late-night statement on Thursday from the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ), it was confirmed that Maya dismissed Zuma’s application on 20 May.
“We do not agree with the judgment,” Manyi said of Maya’s decision, saying there were “exceptional circumstances” that had justified the attempt to have her hear the matter.
Only one of the former president’s four petitions had been addressed, he said, leaving another three that had to be considered.
Zuma’s dismissed special plea was turned down by two SCA judges in March for having “no reasonable prospects of success”. He had approached that court after the presiding judge in the so-called Arms Deal graft case, Piet Koen, denied him leave to appeal the dismissed special plea in February.
The former president’s legal team has made it known in court that should Maya dismiss his reconsideration application, it would seriously consider taking the matter to the Constitutional Court.
The graft trial of Zuma and his co-accused, French arms company Thales, had been placed on hold until Maya — and possibly the Constitutional Court — had ruled.
In its late-night statement, the OCJ also addressed “reports” that delays in the special plea matter — and Zuma’s appeal against a high court judgment declaring the medical parole he was granted last year invalid — were “a deliberate act” on Maya’s part.
“The facts in this regard do not support these assertions,” said the OCJ. It was “administrative challenges within the SCA general office” that had caused the delays. Those challenges were being addressed by the OCJ, according to the statement.
The OCJ also dismissed reports that Maya had received the reconsideration application in March. She “became seized with it on 17 May”, according to the statement, dealt with it “expeditiously, in line with the conventions of the SCA”, and disposed of it on 20 May.
“President Maya remains committed to the principle of judicial independence and the application of the law impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice as required by the Constitution.”
Also on Thursday night, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said the dismissal of the reconsideration application by Maya was welcomed.
“We will now focus on ensuring that the trial resumes on 15 August,” said Mhaga.
Should he be granted access to the Constitutional Court, Zuma will tell those judges exactly what he had wanted to tell Maya: that advocate Billy Downer lacks “independence and impartiality” and that his impending trial — almost two decades in the making — had already been tainted by political and unlawful meddling involving the NPA and Downer.
Zuma claims that Downer would thus be unable to conduct a “lawful prosecution” that will uphold his constitutional rights to a fair trial, and that he should be removed from the trial.
Zuma’s advocates are using all of the legal bullets in their chamber to keep the former president from having his much-vaunted “day in court”. To this end, the team had also earlier this year requested a nolle prosequi certificate from the NPA, leaving the door open for Zuma’s legal team to pursue a private prosecution of Downer.
Of the yet to be addressed issue of the nolle prosequi by the NPA, Manyi told Daily Maverick that NPA head Shamila Batohi was “playing games”.
“This is our biggest problem here….What is taking her so long to produce a one-pager [regarding a nolle prosequi]? So, basically what we have here, we have an NPA that is creating a situation of a free Downer — a very artificial situation.
“This is like manipulating the justice system, because [Batohi] knows that we can’t do private prosecution without that certificate. So they are refusing the certificate, and then they go around saying there is no cloud over Downer. What nonsense is that? We really think they are playing games at the NPA.”
Zuma was first indicted on 20 June 2005.
He 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, to 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 and Thales have pleaded not guilty to all charges. DM