Former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: Dumisani Dube/ANA
Johannesburg - By reviewing the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) decision to prosecute him, former president Jacob Zuma’s aim is to delay the process for as long as he can, legal expert Paul Hoffman says.

Zuma’s lawyer Michael Hulley revealed that he was preparing an application to review the decision immediately after the Hawks had served his client and co-accused, French arms company Thint, with a summons to appear at the Durban High Court on April 6.

The charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering are connected to the controversial arms deal.

The State will pay Zuma’s legal costs. In Parliament this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that Zuma had, under former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration in 2006, reached a legal aid agreement that the State would pay his legal costs.

However, Ramaphosa said the agreement also stated that Zuma would refund the State if he is found to have committed crimes while acting “in his personal capacity”. 

But Hoffman said: “Zuma is 75 years old, and if he delays it long enough he will be dead before he gets to trial. That is the benefit of the delay."

The charges against Zuma had been reinstated after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, and the Supreme Court of Appeal last year found that the 2009 decision to drop the charges by former NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe was irrational.

Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis believes the delay in reinstating charges against Zuma was understandable as the former president had prevented law enforcement authorities from taking action against him.

ALSO READ: Summons for Zuma and Thint

Hoffman suggested that Zuma had two strategies to delay the charges from reaching the trial stage.

The first one, he said, would be to challenge NPA boss Shaun Abrahams for calling a press conference early this month to announce that Zuma’s representation had been unsuccessful.

“They feel that to make an announcement during a press conference was not an accurate way of dealing with the representation that had been made.

“The first step would be to ask that the criminal summons be put on hold until the end of the civil case over whether or not the decision by Abrahams is reviewable,” he said.

Should the legal process of reviewing Abrahams’s decision be unsuccessful, the second strategy would be to make an application for a permanent stay of prosecution, “which would take a couple of years to be finalised”.

“Only then would they get to a point where Zuma would actually have to stand in the dock and be called accused number one when he faces trial,” said Hoffman.

Constitutional law scholar Pierre de Vos doubted that the Zuma defence could successfully challenge the summons.

“If they do, it would be misguided, unethical and an abuse of the legal process because they cannot review a decision which the court has already taken a stance on."

Hulley did not respond to questions yesterday on the details of the application to review the NDPP’s decision to prosecute.

De Vos said Hulley was deliberately avoiding questions, “because he knows that it would be an absurd argument to say you have to review the decision of the NPA when there is no right for the NPA to even consider dropping the charges”.

“The Supreme Court of Appeal said this case must go to court for the NPA to prosecute. There is a court order to that effect,” he said.

It would be reasonable for Zuma to approach the court and ask for a permanent stay of prosecution by arguing that he wouldn't get fair trial, he said.

“That is what the Supreme Court of Appeal said they should rather do.

“Whether they would be successful is another matter. They might argue that it is because the matter had been delayed, but that would be difficult because they were responsible for the delay. They could argue that the whole matter is political and judges might be biased,” he said.

If Zuma has unlimited funds he could keep bringing “frivolous” legal delays, which means it would take years before he gets his day in court.

“If you have all the money in the world you could just bring one application after another, which might go on and on,” De Vos said.

Pretoria News