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Court denies Jacob Zuma’s second special bid to have Billy Downer removed from arms deal case

Court denies Jacob Zuma’s second special bid to have Billy Downer removed from arms deal case
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Leila Dougan | Advocate Billy Downer. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

The former president has lost his latest plea to have advocate Billy Downer removed as prosecutor in the arms deal graft case.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court has dismissed Jacob Zuma’s latest application to have advocate Billy Downer removed as prosecutor of his arms deal corruption trial. 

Delivering the judgment on Wednesday morning, Judge Nkosinathi Chili said the former president had failed to show that Downer’s presence as his prosecutor would violate his right to a fair trial. Zuma had asked for the recusal of Downer, whom he accused of prosecutorial bias, which, he said, would mean he would not get a fair trial if he led the State’s case.

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“I am not persuaded that Mr Zuma succeeded in establishing that the retention of Mr Downer as the prosecutor in this matter could prejudice his right to a fair trial enshrined in Section 35 of Subsection 3 of the Constitution. 

“I therefore make the following order: The application for the removal of Mr Downer as the public prosecutor in the criminal prosecution of Mr Zuma and Thales South Africa (Pty) Ltd is dismissed. Reasons shall be incorporated in my judgment,” Judge Chili said. 

The judge said he would only provide the reasons for his judgment “at the end of the trial”, after Zuma’s lawyer, Dali Mpofu, had requested them “to trigger any further proceedings”. 

The former president was not present in court on Wednesday morning. 

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This is the second attempt by Zuma to have Downer removed from trying the arms deal corruption case after his first special plea failed in October 2021, when it was rejected by former trial judge Piet Koen. 

Zuma subsequently brought a fresh application against Downer in 2023, after Koen recused himself from continuing with the matter

The former president has for years used Stalingrad tactics, ill health and an undisclosed medical condition to delay court proceedings and to avoid facing criminal prosecutions in the case. 

In 2022, Zuma laid criminal charges against Downer and then tried to prosecute him privately, along with journalist Karyn Maughan, whom Zuma accused of colluding with Downer to publish details of his medical records illegally.

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The Supreme Court of Appeal, in October 2023, dismissed Zuma’s application against Maughan and Downer, with costs. 

On Wednesday, Downer said the State is firmly against further delays in the case and asked that Judge Chili set trial dates imminently. 

“We’re now sitting in March 2024 for a trial which has been the subject of abuse and delay for six years – to start further down the line than six months from now we just find it unacceptable… The State’s attitude is that this matter must go to trial as soon as possible,” Downer said. 

Mpofu said he was “absolutely astounded” and “disappointed” with Downer’s remarks, and complained that Downer did not talk to Zuma’s legal team about the progress of the trial.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s proceedings, Judge Chili postponed the matter to 17 May for a pretrial conference. DM


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  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Mpofu – Downer owes you ZERO and why should he have to talk to you about the progress of the trial when YOU and that odious Zuma have and continue to do everything possible under to sun to delay, lie, deny, obfuscate, deceive etc. the trial from going ahead. Justice delayed is justice denied – YOU above all should know that!! If you had an iota of common decency, humanity, integrity, honesty, ethics and morality, you would let the trial go ahead so that the poor and pathetic Zuma could prove his innocence instead of being “hounded in a political conspiracy”. The truth is that he is guilty from head to toe, you know it, we all know it! Do good for a change instead of being the chief defender/apologist of the most vile and crooked!

    • Chris Corns says:

      I think you articulated that perfectly. Nothing left to say.

      • Michael Clark says:

        Perfect. But if the trial does go ahead we can expect every trick in the book by Zuma, including arriving in his Jimjams because he is very old and tired. Well not tired enough to campaign for MK of course.

    • Patrick Veermeer says:

      Spot on. As Chris says below: nuttin’ left to say….

      • Jimbo Smith says:

        Except; Zuma always wanted his ” day in court.” How pathetic that he and Mpofu have made a mockery of the law time and time again. How long has this case been running? Who the hell is paying for all these Stalingrad legal shenanigans? Has this ex “President” got any conscience about the state of this country as a direct result of what went on during his tenure?

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Is Mfofu still practising? so much for the Bar who had many reasons to debar him. however Mfofu seems to have learnt some new words!

  • Sean Venske says:

    At what point does the justice system say enough is enough. This farce has gone way beyond a joke

  • Stephen Brooks says:

    The private prosecution referred to in the article was in May/June 2023. Judge Paul Wallis handed down the judgement interdicting Zuma, preventing him from taking any further steps pursuant to the private prosecution. I wonder why the same is not being used with this case, when Adv Mpofu’s remarks indicate “further proceedings.”

  • Con Tester says:

    Unsurprisingly, Zuma, via his conceited and blusterous counsel, Mpofu, has vowed to appeal, even as their next loss is a virtual certainty. But not to worry. It’s off to the SCA now, and when—not if—that too fails, it’s the ConCourt, followed by a bunch of rescission applications, so we might have an actual trial sometime around July 2079.

    Where is the money coming from? Why does our judiciary tolerate this ongoing shiftiness and dodging?

    Most importantly, why are SA’s polypticians, one and all, such irredeemable scumbags?

  • Ian McGill says:

    Surely being a prosecutor means you have the evidence to think the accused is guilty? How can a prosecutor be biased?

    • Con Tester says:

      Exactly. The mere fact that a prosecutor means to prosecute you can already be construed as bias against you but it’s a legal nonsense because on that basis, no prosecution could ever succeed.

  • Alan Salmon says:

    I cannot understand why Zuma is allowed to continue to waste the court’s time like this when there are many other more important matters to be heard !! He should never have been allowed to appeal the original judgment when he had no likelihood of succeeding. Our legal system urgently needs reform to prevent this nonsense.

  • Mendo Gampu says:

    It’s getting somewhere,poor Msholozi what a con of his legal team draining now it’s all over the journey will soon start Stallingrad tactics are steady but surely dwindling

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