After a lengthy legal battle which dramatically shaped post-apartheid SA's political landscape, former President Jacob Zuma appeared in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court (Pietermaritzburg) today at the start of a crucial legal battle to determine whether he will finally face the National Prosecuting Authority's corruption case against him.
Legalbrief reports that the application for a permanent stay of prosecution by Zuma and French arms company, Thales, in relation to the multi-billion rand arms deal will be heard until Thursday.
Zuma and Thales are facing charges of fraud, money laundering, corruption and racketeering for a series of alleged bribes paid to Zuma through former financial adviser Schabir Shaik in the late 1990s. A report on the News24 site notes that Shaik was found guilty of fraud and corruption in June 2005 for irregularities surrounding the same matter, and sentenced to an effective 15 years behind bars. Full report on the News24 site
In his opening remarks, Zuma's lawyer senior counsel Muzi Sikhakhane claimed that society has unleashed 'mob justice' on his client. A report on the EWN site notes that Sikhakhane said that he would try to persuade the court and everyone who 'hated' his client to understand who Jacob Zuma really was. He said that it did not matter what Zuma has been accused of doing, he must not be treated with less humanity and outside the bounds of the Constitution.
Sikhakhane said the corruption case was an intersection of law and politics 'because we're not discussing the lease here today; we're here to argue about the legal foundations of the nature of the state we chose'. He argued that the NPA's decision not to charge Zuma along with Shaik effectively resulted in Zuma being tried in his absence, as he was not able to cross-examine witnesses. 'Evidence that we today say is incontrovertible may not have been so,' he said.
The Daily Maverick reports that Sikhakhane said the stay of prosecution application was not about whether Zuma was innocent or guilty but how the NPA acted 'in a manner that suggests it's manipulated, it's designed for political ends'. Advocate Wim Trengrove SC is set to argue the state's case, while advocate Anton Katz SC is representing Thales. Full report on the EWN site Full Daily Maverick report
A Business Day report notes that while Zuma argues that he has suffered the worst victimisation in the history of democratic SA at the hands of the NPA, the state contends that his application for a permanent stay of his corruption prosecution is just the latest battle in his 'Stalingrad' campaign to avoid 'at all cost' having to answer to the criminal charges against him.
Three judges will evaluate these two accounts of the prosecution of Zuma and Thales and decide whether the prosecution should go ahead. Crucially, the court needs to decide whether there has been an 'unreasonable delay' in Zuma's prosecution, who was primarily responsible for that delay, and whether it has made it impossible for the former President to have a fair trial. Four days have been set aside to hear the matter. Full Business Day report
Thales, in a statement ahead of its appearance, said the circumstances of the case‚ which dates back a decade‚ meant a fair trial could not happen. 'Bearing in mind the very long delay of this procedure – through no fault of Thales at all – together with a range of factors beyond its control‚ Thales believes it cannot obtain a fair trial‚ as it is entitled to under the SA Constitution and international law‚' the statement said, according to TimesLIVE .
The company added it had 'no knowledge of any transgressions having been committed by any of its employees in relation to the awarding of the contract for the combat systems for SA's corvettes (the arms deal in 1999). 'Thales respects the law‚ has a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and has co-operated fully with the local authorities at all times‚ and will continue to do so‚' the statement said.
The company is accused of conspiring with Schabir Shaik‚ his Nkobi Group and the former President to pay him R500 000 a year as a bribe in exchange for protection during an investigation linked to the arms deal. Thales applied for a permanent stay of prosecution in 2018. Full TimesLIVE report
Meanwhile, Zuma's supporters who filled up the court both inside and outside were hopeful that the case against the former ANC leader will be struck off the roll by the end of the week. Some of the prominent supporters of Zuma who spoke to IoL said the matter has been contaminated with politics and legal hurdles, hence their hope that the bench of three judges hearing Zuma's application for a permanent stay of prosecution will rule in their favour by Friday.
The outgoing speaker of the KZN legislature, Meshack Radebe, said the fact that Shaik was charged and convicted alone in 2005, shows that the case against Zuma is suspicious. Radebe's assertion was echoed by Carl Niehaus, the spokesperson of the Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Association who said the dragging of the case has prejudiced Zuma so much that he could not get a fair trial. Full report on the IoL site