Former president Jacob Zuma at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday. Zuma's defence team has been arguing for his prosecution on fraud, corruption and racketeering charges he is facing relating to the country's arms deal of the 1990s to be permanently halted. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency(ANA)

PIETERMARITZBURG - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Friday dismissed as irrelevant a letter purporting to bolster an argument for political meddling in the graft case of former South African president Jacob Zuma and his co-accused, French arms company Thales.

Late on Thursday afternoon, Zuma’s defence team tried to bring the letter before the court as evidence that political interference was indeed central to the fraud, corruption and racketeering charges being faced by Zuma.

Zuma has maintained since he was first charged over a decade ago that the state sought to prosecute him to keep him from becoming ANC president and consequently state president. The alleged conspiracy involved former president Thabo Mbeki and various other role players in state organs, according to Zuma. 

When the matter was heard on Friday morning though, Advocate Wim Trengove, acting for the State, said the letter was an internal one between the NPA and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks).

“It is subject to litigation privilege and may have been unlawfully released to the applicants,” said Trengove. 

“[Zuma’s defence team] haven’t told us from whom or how they got the letter. It seems to have come from either the NPA or Hawks, it is privileged...Besides that, it’s irrelevant to Mr. Zuma’s prosecution because it relates to the [Thales] case," said Trengove.

Zuma’s attorney, Muzi Sikhakhane, had earlier told the court that the letter should be allowed into evidence because the State continued to deny there was political meddling in the case, but, as was evident in the letter, was still investigating the possibility of such in 2018.

Trengove said the letter was based on an affidavit made by former Thales’ legal representative, Ajay Sooklal, and that the affidavit had been in the public domain for years. 

“The Sooklal affidavit was made for purposes of a court case. It’s an affidavit filed in a case in which Zuma was a litigant. The affidavit was filed in 2016 and was available to Zuma all this time.

“The Zuma camp has been in possession of the affidavit since 2016 and, for this case, since last year. For them to now argue for this document to be admitted at the 11th hour is not justified. I ask that the application be dismissed with costs,” said Trengove.

Sikhakhane said he was persisting with the application to have the letter allowed as evidence.

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 Thales via his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. 

The case relates to the country’s contentious arms deal of the 1990s, in which Thales secured a multi-billion rand contract to supply combat systems for the South African navy.

Thales, accused two, is facing one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption and one count of money laundering.

Defence teams for Zuma and Thales have been before a full bench of judges this week arguing for the prosecutions against them to be permanently halted. The state is opposing the applications.

Judgment was reserved and should be delivered within the next three months.

African News Agency (ANA)