Court clears way for Zuma graft pros­e­cu­tion

South Africa op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Al­liance party had sought to re­ac­ti­vate 783 charges

Gulf News - - AUSTRALIA -

South Africa’s Supreme Court of Ap­peal ruled yes­ter­day that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma can face pros­e­cu­tion on al­most 800 charges of cor­rup­tion re­lat­ing to a 1990s arms deal.

Zuma had lodged a chal­lenge at the court in Bloem­fontein af­ter a lower court de­cided in 2016 to re­in­state charges that were pre­vi­ously dropped by prose­cu­tors. The Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity must now de­cide whether to pur­sue a pros­e­cu­tion.

“The rea­sons for dis­con­tin­u­ing the pros­e­cu­tion given... do not bear scru­tiny,” said Supreme Court judge Eric Leach, who read the rul­ing which Zuma could now con­test on ap­peal to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, South Africa’s high­est.

The op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Al­liance party had sought in 12 court ap­pear­ances since 2009 to re­ac­ti­vate 783 charges re­gard­ing con­tro­ver­sial post-apartheid mil­i­tary con­tracts that have dogged Zuma for much of his time in gov­ern­ment.

The pres­i­dent, who is ac­cused of cor­rup­tion, fraud, mon­ey­laun­der­ing and rack­e­teer­ing, has al­ways in­sisted he is in­no­cent. Just back in South Africa from a visit to Zam­bia, he has yet to com­ment on the judge­ment.

Zuma and other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were ac­cused of tak­ing kick­backs from the $5 bil­lion (Dh18.4 bil­lion; 4.2 bil­lion euros) pur­chase of fighter jets, pa­trol boats and other arms man­u­fac­tured by five Euro­pean firms, in­clud­ing Bri­tish mil­i­tary equip­ment maker BAE Sys­tems and French com­pany Thales.

Shaikh con­victed

In 2005 Zuma’s for­mer fi­nan­cial ad­viser Sch­abir Shaikh was con­victed for fa­cil­i­tat­ing bribes in ex­change for mil­i­tary hard­ware con­tracts and sen­tenced to 15 years in prison. He was later re­leased on med­i­cal pa­role.

Charges were first brought against Zuma in 2005 but dropped by prose­cu­tors in 2009 be­fore their reinstatement some seven years later.

Con­sti­tu­tional ex­pert Law­son Naidoo de­scribed the Supreme Court judge­ment as a “sig­nif­i­cant blow” for Zuma.

The Supreme Court heard ar­gu­ments last month against re­in­stat­ing the charges, but in an un­ex­pected twist Zuma’s lawyer Kemp J Kemp agreed the de­ci­sion by prose­cu­tors to drop them in the first place was ir­ra­tional.

The Supreme Court rul­ing could in­ten­sify calls for Zuma to re­sign and cast a shadow over a con­fer­ence of his rul­ing African Na­tional Congress (ANC) party, due to be held in mid-De­cem­ber, which will elect his suc­ces­sor.

The case is the lat­est in a string of po­lit­i­cal and le­gal scan­dals that have haunted Zuma but failed to shake his grip on power.

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