LIVE FEED: High Court delivers judgment on postponement of Jacob Zuma’s fraud and corruption case
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Durban - Former president Jacob Zuma wants his corruption trial to be postponed until he can physically appear in court and give oral evidence and until the Constitutional Court hands down its judgment regarding his application to have his 15-month sentence for contempt rescinded.
His legal team, led by Advocate Dali Mpofu, have asked for a two to three-week adjournment.
Presiding Judge Piet Koen heard submissions from Zuma’s lawyers and the state regarding the former president’s argument that his rights would be violated if his corruption trial was heard virtually. Judge Koen is expected to hand down his judgment on the trial postponement application this morning.
Zuma’s legal team was meant to deal with its application to have state Advocate Billy Downer recused on Monday.
Mpofu made a special plea application to postpone the matter until Zuma could appear before the court in person and give oral evidence at the Pietermaritzburg High Court. His plea was labelled, by the state advocate Wim Trengove SC, as “merely a ruse” to avoid answering his corruption charges.
Mpofu told Judge Koen that his team had had difficulty consulting with their client since his incarceration at the Escort Correctional Facility.
Zuma was present during Monday’s proceedings as he logged on virtually. Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie, the former statesman seemed to be in good spirits as he waved to the camera and smiled before proceedings started.
Trengove argued that Zuma’s presence online during the court proceedings was appropriate and lawful, and that there was no need for an adjournment.
He also argued that there was no need for Zuma to make oral submissions as his 5 000-page written submission was sufficient.
Zuma – who was recently incarcerated at the Escort Correctional Facility – faces 18 charges and 783 counts related to the case, including fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering. He is charged along with French arms manufacturer Thales.
The charges are in connection with the 1999 purchase of fighter jets and other military equipment from five international arms companies. Nine of his charges are for allegedly making false income tax returns. The case has dragged on for close to two decades.
Mpofu argued that Zuma did not consent to have his special plea heard virtually and that he had the right to a public trial and to be present when being tried.
“Those rights are enshrined in the Constitution, and not even a minister can take those away,” Mpofu said. He told the court that “ironically”, Zuma’s rights had been violated 20 days ago when he was convicted and sentenced to prison by the Constitutional Court without a proper trial - a claim that has been largely disputed by the court.
“It’s a matter of once bitten, twice shy,” Mpofu said, adding that Zuma should not be tried without being physically present or allowed to make oral submissions.
Judge Koen stressed that Zuma's case had already been extensively delayed, and that it was in everyone’s best interests that it be resolved.
Trengove opposed the request to postpone the matter, saying that Zuma was as present as any accused. He said Zuma had for more than 10 years used every trick in the book to avoid having his day in court.
“He desperately seeks to avoid answering the charges of corruption, fraud and money-laundering made against him,” Trengove said.
He argued that Zuma "copied and pasted" 135 paragraphs from his permanent stay application to the Constitutional Court into his application for a special plea.
“It is merely a ruse. It’s a rehash of old complaints dressed up. It is abuse to rerun the same complaints again,” he said.
Trengove said using the virtual platform was “legitimate, appropriate and lawful”.
While Zuma’s supporters were expected to gather outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday, only a few pitched up.
Fees Must Fall activist Bonginkosi Khanyile embarked on a campaign to demand the release of the former statesman from prison, arguing that jailing a 79-year-old man was unjust.
On Monday, just before 1pm, Khanyile and Philani Nduli, a member of the EFF student command in KwaZulu-Natal, went to the Pietermaritzburg High Court precinct, shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that Zuma be released.
This seemingly took the army and police officers guarding the heavily fortified court by surprise.
“It has been a week since Msholozi (Zuma) has been jailed, we plead with you to support him until he is released,” Khanyile and the man chanted repeatedly.
As the police and army gathered around them, they left and continued chanting, demanding Zuma’s release. They moved around the city, calling for his release.