LIVE FEED: Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial resumes at the Pietermaritzburg High Court
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Durban - Former president Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial is set to resume at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday.
The trial will be heard virtually and will begin at 10am, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) confirmed in a statement on Friday.
Zuma – who was incarcerated at the Escort Correctional Facility – faces 18 charges and 783 counts related to the case, including fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering and is charged 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.
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Nine of his charges are for allegedly making false income tax returns.
The case has dragged on for close to two decades and is finally set to go to trial this year as the NPA attempts to finally put to bed one of the longest-running court cases in the country’s democratic dispensation.
Last October, the NPA had argued that it had charged Thales with racketeering as the company had knowingly participated in a scheme to bribe Zuma in return for his political influence and protection.
Zuma has pleaded not guilty to all charges which form part of an indictment in his corruption trial.
Zuma has always maintained that he was innocent and that the charges levelled against him were politically motivated and a part of a political ploy to destroy him.
The former statesman is accused of receiving several bribes during the procurement process of the multibillion arms deal around 1998 and 1999 – a time during which Zuma was the MEC for economic development in KwaZulu-Natal.
Among the bribes that Zuma is alleged to have pocketed is a R500 000 annual retainer that was allegedly paid by Thales through his then financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, whose Nkobi Holdings was a BEE partner to Thales in the deal.
The court is expected to hear Zuma’s application to have the prosecutor, advocate Billy Downer SC, recuse himself.
In their application, Zuma’s lawyers argued that Downer could not lead his prosecution as he was allegedly a tainted figure who allowed politics to influence him. Downer has denied all accusations.
At the weekend, the Jacob Zuma Foundation raised an issue with the case being heard virtually. They want Zuma to appear in person at the court.
The foundation insisted that in a criminal trial all accused should be present in court and, if that's not the case, there should be exceptional circumstances to explain that.
The foundation said the “sensitive” hearing should be shelved if the situation – in this case, the fact that South Africa is in the midst of a devastating third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic – does not allow for such a hearing.
“The foundation is concerned that the directions issued by the Pietermaritzburg High Court, to hear the matter virtually, are not consistent with provisions of both the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and the Constitution, as set out below.
“The matter must be heard physically on July 19 or later, when the country is calmer,” the foundation said on Twitter late on Saturday.