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Zuma corruption trial postponed with ConCourt appeal de...

South Africa


Jacob Zuma corruption trial predictably postponed again with ConCourt appeal decision pending 

Former President Jacob Zuma listens to Anton Katz SC arguing in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, 21 May 2019 on behalf of Zuma’s co-accused, Thales, for a stay of Prosecution. (Photo: Jackie Clausen / Pool)

The former president’s arms deal case has been adjourned until 17 October 2022 with trial forecast for 2023.

The Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday 1 August requested that legal teams involved in the high-profile corruption trial of former president Jacob Zuma submit availability dates for 2023 in order to plan a trial schedule, given that the matter again had to be postponed to another holding date. 

In what was an expected outcome, Judge Piet Koen was forced to postpone the commencement of the trial for the third time since Zuma formally pleaded “not guilty” to all charges in May 2021.

The key driver for the latest delay is an outstanding appeal to the Constitutional Court. Zuma approached the apex court in June after his appeal processes at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) were exhausted by May 2022. 

The former president is seeking to have veteran prosecutor, Advocate Billy Downer, removed from the trial, arguing that he has no title to prosecute. 

Downer told the court that the state had made enquiries with the Constitutional Court, and that the matter had not yet been dealt with.  

“It is safe to say we cannot postpone to a trial date,” said Downer. 

Zuma was not in court on Monday, nor was a representative from his co-accused, Thales South Africa. Neither Zuma nor a Thales representative needs to be in attendance at the 17 October holding date, either. 

Koen said that in a best-case scenario, if the Constitutional Court found against Zuma’s application, the trial could start on 7 November and run until 2 December, but this would only be able to be determined at the holding date.  

“I want all parties by 7 September to provide a list of their judicial commitments for the second term of this court for 2023 so that we can start looking at the dates,” said Koen.

The trial was expected to start in May 2021, then 11 April and then on 15 August. 

Had the trial commenced on 15 August, Zuma’s legal team would likely have been split between two courts. On the same date, the Supreme Court of Appeal is set to hear an appeal by Zuma against a ruling that the medical parole he was granted in his contempt of court matter was unlawful, and that he should be sent back to prison to complete the remainder of his 15-month sentence, or at least until he is eligible for normal parole. 

The North Gauteng high court ruled in December 2021 that Zuma’s release on medical parole — authorised by then correctional services head and Zuma ally, Arthur Fraser — was an “unlawful intervention”. 

The contempt sentence was ordered by the Constitutional Court after the former president refused to appear before the State Capture Commission. As with Downer, Zuma maintains that chief justice Raymond Zondo — who chaired the commission when he was deputy chief justice — is biased. 

Had he not been released on medical parole, Zuma’s sentence would have officially ended in October 2022. 

While Zuma’s Constitutional Court application for the arms deal matter is slightly different to his failed appeals to the SCA, it is still based on his failed 2021 “special plea” application to the Pietermaritzburg high court.

Zuma is seeking to have Downer removed from the trial in terms of section 106 (1)(h) of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA). 

The crux of his argument is that Downer lacks “independence and impartiality” and that the impending trial has already been tainted by political and unlawful meddling, specifically involving the National Prosecuting Authority. Downer would thus be unable to conduct a “lawful prosecution” that will uphold Zuma’s constitutional rights to a fair trial. 

Zuma entered the special plea on 26 May 2021 when he also pleaded not guilty to a raft of charges relating to the controversial 1999 Arms Deal. 

Zuma believes that if the apex court finds in his favour, he will be entitled to an immediate acquittal in terms of section 106 (4) of the CPA. 

Koen rejected the special plea in October 2021, and again when Zuma applied for leave to appeal. The SCA rejected Zuma’s direct petition to the court on 30 March and then SCA Judge President Mandisa Maya dismissed on 20 May what is known as a “reconsideration application” in terms of section 17.2(f) of the Superior Courts Act, which allows an SCA judge president to personally intervene and have a matter heard by the SCA.  

The state has said it is trial ready. 

Zuma was first indicted on 30 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 secure lucrative defence contracts from the government as part of the country’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 twelve counts of fraud. Thales is facing one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption and one count of money laundering.

Thales has also pleaded not guilty to all charges. DM


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  • This is beyond ridiculous – why not go ahead with the trial and charge Mr Zumba with contempt and fine him harshly for each delay. How can a case go on for 17 years?

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