Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial returns to court amid uncertainty
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Durban - Two weeks after engaging in a bitter legal brawl with the Zondo commission which is probing allegations of state capture, former president Jacob Zuma is bracing for another legal battle.
On Tuesday, Zuma returns to the Pietermaritzburg High Court to once again face his on-and-off corruption trial together with his co-accused, Thales, a French arms company accused of bribing him.
The corruption, fraud and money laundering charges emanate from the country’s procurement of arms in the 1998-99 period, and Zuma is alleged to have pocketed bribes in return for providing political protection to one of the winning bidders, Thales.
The State first charged him in June 2005, just a few days after his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik was convicted for his role in the alleged corruption. Shaik was convicted for bribing Zuma, with the State claiming that he was also instrumental in asking Thales to pay an annual bribe of R500 000 to the former president.
Zuma has repeatedly denied the charges and said his prosecution is part of a political plot to persecute him.
But his case may not go ahead as planned if the same court, by Tuesday, has not handed down its judgement in a separate court challenge brought by Thales. In June this year, Thales announced that after engaging with the national director of public prosecution, Advocate Shamila Batohi, on the racketeering charges brought against it, it had to seek court relief. The company filed an application and the case was heard towards the end of October and judgement was reserved.
Since the Thales challenge is linked to the Zuma trial, in September the case had to be moved to the next date which is Tuesday. This was while all parties wait for the court to issue a judgement.
On Thursday, neither Zuma’s instructing lawyer, Advocate Eric Mabuza, nor the head of the NPA in KZN, Advocate Elaine Zungu, would comment when asked about their next moves regarding the case.
The last time the matter was to be heard in court, all parties agreed to postpone it to the coming date. In a statement issued on September 9, 2020, by NPA KZN spokesperson Natasha Kara, the decision to postpone was because the French arms dealer wants the racketeering charges to be set aside.
“By agreement, all parties have committed to the provisional postponement of the matter for the resolution of pre-trial management issues namely: 1. Thales’ application for review (to set aside racketeering charges preferred against it). 2. Thales’ application for further particulars from the State. 3. Further clarity on the resumption of international travel under the Covid-19 restrictions which affects witnesses and Thales’ representative, from abroad,” Kara said.
Should the court rule on time in the Thales vs NPA matter, the Zuma trial would proceed to another stage and parties would start exchanging the last batch of information and set provisional dates for the hearing.
The State, which is confident of securing a conviction against Zuma, has already indicated that it would be ready by February next year to get the trial underway.