Jacob Zuma to face 16 counts of corruption over arms deal

Krista Mahr
Jacob Zuma - AFP

 

Former South African President Jacob Zuma will stand trial on 16 charges of corruption, state prosecutors said on Friday, in an extraordinary development that could see the recently ousted leader land in jail.

National Prosecuting Authority director Shaun Abrahams announced Mr Zuma would face 16 counts of corruption, money laundering, racketeering and fraud related to a government arms deal in the late 1990s.

The move drew a sharp line under nearly a decade of scandal and corruption allegations in the nation’s highest office and restored many South Africans’ faith in the country’s commitment to rule of law in the post-apartheid era.

The decision comes just four weeks after Mr Zuma, 75, handed in his resignation as South Africa’s president under intense pressure from the ruling African National Congress party, which lost popularity during his nine-year tenure.

“I am of the view that a trial court would be the most appropriate forum for these matters to be ventilated,” Mr Abrahams said at a press conference in Pretoria, adding that he felt there were “reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution of Mr Zuma.”

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, standing next to Jacob Zuma, has pledged to stamp out corruption Credit: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

“Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done,” Mr Abrahams said. “I am mindful that everyone is equal before the law.”

Mr Zuma was succeeded as president by Cyril Ramaphosa,a widely respected anti-apartheid activist and wealthy businessman who has pledged to root out corruption in the party of Nelson Mandela.

“This is a very big moment for the country,” said William Gumede, executive chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation.

“He has nowhere to run. The system we’ve created really is robust. You can’t manipulate it, even if you’re the president.”

Mr Zuma has denied any wrongdoing, but has spent more than R15 million (£901,000) in taxpayer money fighting the charges that hung over him throughout his two terms.

Mr Zuma has said he would refund the state if he is convicted. The NPA originally investigated charges that Mr Zuma took bribes from arms dealers and indicted him in 2007.

But the agency dropped the charges in 2009 shortly before Mr Zuma became president.

The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s largest opposition party, has been fighting for years to have the charges against Mr Zuma reinstated.

Zuma analysis

In April 2016, a court said that the NPA’s decision to withdraw the charges was “irrational” and made under political pressure, and that Mr Zuma “should face the charges as outlined in the indictment.”

Mr Zuma appealed the ruling, but in October 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision that Mr Zuma should stand trial.

Mr Zuma made a last-ditch effort to avoid the charges in January, submitting arguments to the NPA why they should be dropped. Mr Abrahams said on Friday the bid was unsuccessful.

The DA welcomed the decision. “Now there must be no further delay in starting the trial,” it said in a statement. “The witnesses are ready, the evidence is strong, and Jacob Zuma must finally have his day in court.”

The African National Congress said it was committed to the “principle of equality of all before the law” but said it continued to “assert the inalienable right of all in our country, including Comrade Jacob Zuma, to be presumed innocent until and if proven guilty.”

Mr Abrahams had been widely considered to be an ally of Mr Zuma, and the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest, is currently reviewing whether or not Mr Zuma illegally appointed Mr Abrahams to his current job.

“We certainly hope this is going to mean there’s going to be a consistent approach of rule of law and prosecution of people regardless of the position that they hold,” said Lawson Naidoo, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution’s executive secretary.

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