Former president Jacob Zuma's legal team has accused the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of using the coronavirus to justify the postponement of his corruption trial to 2021.
In letters sent to KwaZulu-Natal judicial head Judge President Achmat Jappie, Zuma's lawyer, Eric Mabuza, accuses the judicial heads of having inappropriate discussions with trial head prosecutor advocate Billy Downer SC.
Zuma has also called for Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and the Judicial Services Commission to look into these developments "with the view of restoring the integrity of the legal system of South Africa".
This after an email, dated 21 May, from Downer to Jappie went viral on social media discussing a possible postponement and admittance of further evidence.
The NPA has confirmed the validity of the email to News24.
Zuma is facing 16 charges, including racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering.
In the email, Downer stated French arms company Thales, accused number two in the case, had requested certain preliminary information prior to its impending formal application for further particulars.
Downer said this included an entire database of all material seized by the police.
"Given the old technology that applied when the original downloading and imaging was done, this is a long process that is still underway.
"The Covid-19 lockdown interrupted the forensic consultants' ability to travel to their offices and the task was thus interrupted. The new Level 4 stage of the lockdown has enabled the consultants to travel to their offices again," he said.
With the lockdown preventing witnesses from travelling and counsel unable to find accommodation for the duration of the trial, Downer wrote the State wished "the matter to be set down for trial in February 2021".
Reacting to the email, the Jacob Zuma Foundation said the former president was ready to proceed with the trial immediately.
"It is now the State that is seeking a postponement of the trial on a variety of frivolous grounds at this point.
"Second, the lead prosecutor, Downer, has been having private correspondence and telephonic conversations with Jappie about this case without the knowledge or consent of the legal representatives of Zuma.
"Most disturbing about this is the fact that Downer has not only sought to negotiate the allocation of a trial date in 2021, but has also discussed the merits of the case with Jappie who at this stage has no role in the administration of the case as this is being handled by the deputy judge president, [Isaac] Madondo. "
Mabuza said it was common practice for all parties to be privy to information related to the trial, including allocation of dates and hearings.
"The reasons for this are obvious and related to fairness, equality of arms and the elimination of any reasonable perceptions or apprehension of bias," he wrote.
In the email, Downer also references a separate telephonic conversation with Jappie discussing the inclusion of further evidence to the case.
In the email, Downer wrote: "It is correct, as you suspected, that the State will apply that the indictment be amended to include a number of payments from the Shai/Nkobi group to Mr Zuma that FTI discovered during their review of the old KPMG report and the production of the new report that was handed to the defence in 2019.
"The amendment essentially entails the replacement of the schedule to the indictment to include the new figures."
Responding to News24, NPA spokesperson Natasha Kara said correspondence between Jappie and Downer was conducted as per normal.
She added issues arising from the communication would be dealt with during court proceedings.
News24 spoke to four high profile advocates on condition of anonymity on whether the actions by the NPA and Jappie were irregular.
A former advocate said it was totally normal for prosecutors to discuss court dates with a judge president. Three defence advocates, however, said this was highly irregular.
"Whatever the discussion is, it has to be done with the defence. Nothing can be said about the case without the defence. It's not illegal but it's highly irregular," one senior advocate told News24.
Mabuza said the ex parte discussion referred betrayed a lack of appreciation for the nature and impact of the trial that his client had endured at the hands of the State.
"We would respectfully request that this trial be approached with much restraint, absolute integrity and circumspection by all involved," he wrote.