Former President Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is hoping to avoid corruption charges. Picture: Jackie Clausen/Pool/African News Agency (ANA)

Durban – As expected, the legal team for former president Jacob Zuma on Monday argued that the graft case against its client should be struck off the roll because of political interference and an unreasonable delay in prosecution. 

Senior defence counsel, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, told a full bench of judges at the Pietermaritzburg High Court that Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was pursued by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in order to test the waters for a case against “the big fish”, meaning Zuma.

He called Shaik’s trial “a dry run” in getting a successful prosecution against Zuma.

“When [the NPA under Bulelani Ngcuka] decided they would try Mr. Shaik and hold on to Zuma’s case, it was because they wanted a guarantee, they wanted a conviction [of Zuma]. A lot happened in Shaik’s trail.... Zuma was the big fish that was wanted,” he said. This was when the delay into prosecuting Zuma started, said Sikhakhane.

Zuma should have been charged "without delay" alongside Shaik as the NPA had announced at the time that there was a prima facie case against Zuma, said Sikhakhane.

Zuma (accused one) is facing one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud for allegedly receiving bribe money from arms' company Thales, via Shaik, in the multi-billion rand arms deal that started in 1999. 

Shaik was found guilty on two charges of corruption and one of fraud in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. He attempted an appeal at the Supreme Court but failed and was also turned down by the Constitutional Court. He served two years before being released on “medical parole” in 2009.

Zuma was fired as deputy president following Shaik's 2005 conviction. 

Zuma was charged in 2007 but, citing political interference, charges were withdrawn by the NPA in 2009. The charges were reinstated last year following a protracted court battle led by the Democratic Alliance.

Sikhakhane said that former Scorpions’ head Leonard McCarthy and Ngcuka conspired to have Zuma tried and that their reasons were politically motivated. 

Even once he had left the NPA, Ngcuka was “pulling strings” to have Zuma tried, said Sikhakhane. He said this had been revealed through the so-called spy tapes. The tapes are of McCarthy and Ngcuka discussing the best time to prosecute Zuma so that Thabo Mbeki be successfully reelected to the presidency. 

African News Agency/ANA