Jacob Zuma: Former South African president faces corruption trial

17Mar 2018
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Jacob Zuma: Former South African president faces corruption trial

SOUTH Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it is pursuing 16 charges against former President Jacob Zuma including graft and racketeering that were shelved nine years ago amid allegations of political interference.

The announcement yesterday compounded Zuma’s dramatic fall from power after he was forced to step down as president two months ago to be replaced by new ruling party leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. That, and a commission of inquiry into alleged undue influence by Zuma’s friends the Guptas over his administration, will bolster the new president’s campaign against corruption.

“I am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution of Zuma,” Chief prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told reporters in Pretoria, the capital.

NPA officials in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province will now make the necessary arrangements for Zuma to appear in court to face 12 charges of fraud, one of racketeering, two of corruption and one of money laundering.

The NPA spent eight years investigating allegations that Zuma (75) took 4.07 million rand ($341,000) in bribes from arms dealers and charged him with corruption, racketeering, fraud and money laundering. It abandoned the case in 2009, months before he became president, saying taped phone calls indicated that chief investigator Leonard McCarthy may have used the allegations to frustrate Zuma’s efforts to win control of the African National Congress from then-President Thabo Mbeki.

In October, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that found the decision to drop the charges was “irrational” and that the political considerations that had tainted the investigation were irrelevant to the integrity of the case. While the order paved the way for a trial to proceed, prosecutors allowed Zuma to make representations as to why he shouldn’t be indicted.

“Zuma’s representation was unsuccessful,” Abrhams said. “I am of the view that a trial court will the most appropriate forum for these issues to be ventilated.”

Zuma, who was also implicated in a succession of other scandals, resigned on February 14 under pressure from the ANC following its election of a new leadership in December. He has denied wrongdoing.


Long court battle awaits


As Zuma is no longer president, he cannot use state resources to support his defence.

But Zuma is known for fighting every single battle right until the end. Therefore, expect some pushback even after this heavy blow.

He is, by law, allowed to challenge this decision. In other words we might see a delay before any trial actually starts. And even when the trial begins, it will be long and drawn out.

But for now his political enemies, particularly the opposition, are celebrating that he is closer to facing a judge in court than ever before.

Zuma weathered an array of corruption allegations during his nine years in power.

In 2016, a report by South Africa's anti-corruption watchdog alleged that the billionaire Gupta family had exploited their ties with him to win state contracts. Both the Guptas and Zuma deny any wrongdoing.

The same year, South Africa's highest court ruled that Zuma had violated the constitution when he failed to repay government money spent on his private home.

An anti-corruption body found he had spent $23m on refurbishments including a swimming pool and an amphitheatre. He has since repaid some of the money.


The controversial arms deal


In 1999, the South African government announced its largest-ever post-apartheid arms deal, signing contracts totalling 30bn rand ($5bn) to modernise its national defence force

The deal involved companies from Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, France and South Africa

Allegations of bribery over the deal dogged the governments of both President Jacob Zuma and and one of his predecessors, Thabo Mbeki.

Schabir Shaik was found guilty in 2005 of trying to solicit a bribe from Thint, the local subsidiary of French arms firm Thales, on behalf of Mr Zuma. He was released on parole on health grounds after serving just over two years

Another official, Tony Yengeni, who was chairman of parliament's defence committee at the time of the deal and chief whip of the ANC, was convicted of fraud in 2003. He was also freed on parole after serving five months of a four-year sentence.