Johannesburg, Jul 20 (PTI) Former South African president Jacob Zuma’s long-running corruption trial has been postponed to August 10 as a high court on Tuesday granted his request for a delay in the case.
The local arm of the French defence giant Thales, which is a co-accused in the graft case, alleges that Zuma received bribe from the firm in order to protect it from being probed in a case of irregularities in a USD 2-billion arms deal that was exposed by a member of the South African Parliament. He is accused of pocketing four million rand (USD 277,000) in bribes from Thales.
Zuma, who is currently serving a 15-month sentence by the country’s apex court, has denied the charges. He has been sentenced for contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where several witnesses have implicated him in corruption. He was arrested on July 7.
On Tuesday, Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen ruled that Zuma’s trial was adjourned to August 10 to adjudicate on the issues raised in his special plea.
'The trial is adjourned to 10-13 August 2021,' Judge Koen said.
Zuma asked that his trial be postponed until he could attend the case at the court to testify in person rather than virtually from the Estcourt prison, where he is in detention.
The 79-year-old leader also called for the recusal of prosecutor Billy Downer of the National Prosecuting Authority, alleging that he is biased towards him.
The case has been going on in courts for over a decade now, with legal experts earlier pointing out this was yet another attempt by Zuma to delay the trial.
In his judgement, Koen said that when the matter resumes, the court would hear the special plea by Zuma, but that it would take place virtually.
Koen had set the plea filed by Zuma’s lawyers on Saturday for a virtual hearing on Monday because the country was still in Level 4 of its five-level Covid-19 lockdown, which precluded travel and restricted meeting numbers.
But Zuma’s lawyers argued that this was unfair because the former president had wanted to appear in person. Zuma followed the court proceedings on Monday from the Estcourt prison through a virtual link.
Koen has now ordered Zuma, the NPA and the Estcourt Correctional Services facility to submit a maximum of two pages on how Zuma would be prejudiced if the trial continues virtually.
Lawyer and analyst Mphumelelo Zikalalala said the judge had made a ruling that would keep all sides in the matter happy.
Zikalala said this was to ensure that the communication facilities at Estcourt prison were sorted out so that Zuma’s legal representatives could have access to him to get instructions.
Zuma’s lawyers said on Monday that they had only had one long session with him in preparing for the case, and that there might be other issues that they still wanted to raise, which required them to have access to their client.
'The current regulations issued by the Department of Justice limits access to courts. The question would be whether we are creating special rules and special directions for the former president or is it going to be open and accessible to all?' Zikalala asked.
Pointing out the nature of the matter that would be heard in August, Zikalala said that Zuma or other witnesses would not be required to go to the witness stand.
'In this case, it is purely arguments which are going to be led by legal practitioners. So the questions of demeanour, cross-examination and the stance of the court are not going to be in question in this case.
'There’s no involvement of the former president, so the step of going virtual with this particular application is commendable and it puts us a step forward in developing our legal system and the way in which our courts function.' Zikalala said the court had considered the charges, and the technology could be used to get justice to people in the shortest possible time.
'I must say it is quite a balanced judgement. It is very rare to say this, but I think both parties at the end of the day have won something out of this whole process,” Zikalala added.
Zuma’s imprisonment earlier this month triggered protests that rapidly devolved into unprecedented massive looting and arson across the country. PTI FH ZH ZH