South Africa

NPA to push for Jacob Zuma arms deal trial to proceed

Jacob Zuma 4

Zuma’s latest bid to force the removal of his corruption prosecutor, Billy Downer, is already dead in the water, said the State.

Former President Jacob Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales are set to return to the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday.

This comes after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) last week unanimously dismissed Zuma’s bid to challenge the enforcement of the ruling invalidating his private prosecution of state advocate Billy Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan.

Zuma had sought to overturn a high court judgment that effectively prevented Downer and Maughan from having to face prosecution.

The SCA confirmed Zuma’s case against the duo had no foundation and found his private prosecution against Downer and Maughan was a continuation of his so-called “Stalingrad campaign” to avoid ever facing trial through constant challenges to the case against him.

Private Prosecution

Zuma’s latest bid to force the removal of his corruption trial prosecutor Billy Downer is already dead in the water, said the State, because the pillars of his case “have been repeatedly and emphatically dismissed” in six different court rulings according to News24.

“These emphatic and repeated dismissals of Mr Zuma’s pillars are fatal to his current attempt to resurrect them to avoid his day in court,” the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) argued in papers filed at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg.

Downer made it clear the NPA will push for the former president’s trial to proceed, despite whatever appeals may follow his 26 October bid to again force the prosecutor’s removal, if that bid is (again) unsuccessful.

ALSO READ: Zuma not delaying trial, ‘its ‘typical Zuma law in action’ – Foundation

Grounds for removal

The Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said the matter was set down for hearing on 15 August 2023 but was unexpectedly removed by the Judge President Mandisa Maya a day before the hearing, a decision which was reversed after a meeting between her and the parties.

“It will be remembered that it was on the basis of this application that Judge Koen recused himself from the trial in January 2023 after considering the written arguments of both parties.”

The former president’s legal team had raised 14 grounds for Downer to be recused including his claim the prosecutor had been party to the unlawful leaking of court papers – containing a sick note from his military doctor Brigadier Mcebisi Mdutywa to Maughan.

ALSO READ: Court throws out Zuma’s private prosecution, rules it’s part of ‘Stalingrad strategy’

However, Judge Piet Koen dismissed them in October 2021 after finding that many of them were “based on speculation or suspicion or are based on inadmissible hearsay evidence and not on fact”.

“The ultimate question to be answered is therefore not whether the prosecutor is not independent or not impartial or biased or not sufficiently independent or impartial, but whether the accused will ultimately receive a fair trial.

“Even in limited instances, they might have at best qualify as possible irregularities, these irregularities were not as such to require Mr Downer‘s removal as a prosecutor and did not deprive him of the title, even in the extended sense of that word contended for by Mr Zuma to prosecute,” he said.

Objections

Zuma had objected to Downer leading his prosecution on behalf of NPA claiming that Downer lacked the title to prosecute him and was biased against him.

In January this year Koen announced his decision to recuse himself from the matter for the “strong views” he made when he dismissed Zuma‘s bid to get arms deal prosecutor, Downer, removed from the corruption and fraud trial.

This also includes the views the judge made about the merits of Zuma’s private prosecution case against Downer and Maughan for allegedly leaking the former president’s private medical records.

Judge Nkosinathi Chili was appointed as the new presiding judge.

Zuma delays

Earlier this year, the NPA wanted the Pietermaritzburg High Court to step in citing the “unreasonable” delays it said the former president was causing in the arms deal corruption case.

The case was last in court in April when it was on the roll for the trial to finally get underway.

However, it was postponed again after Zuma brought a fresh bid for Downer, who is leading the prosecution against him, to be recused.

While the SCA dismissed the second application for leave to appeal by Zuma, the former president tried to get Judge President Maya to intervene and filed a reconsideration application.

In the State’s answering affidavit, Downer argued Zuma’s ultimate aim was “to avoid at all costs to have his day in court”.

18 years and still no trial

Downer said Zuma made his first appearance in the dock for the arms cases in 2005 and that almost 18 years later, the first witness is yet to take the stand.

However, Manyi said Zuma was not to blame: “It is interesting, though, to mention the observation that in their judgment, a date of 2005 is mentioned as if since then it was President Zuma’s fault that the case was not sitting. That statement on its own seems to have put aside the fact that more than once the NPA decided not to prosecute.

“All of sudden you have a summary statement that gives an impression that his excellency President Zuma has been delaying the trial, So, indeed the lawyers will look into all that, but on the face of it, it’s the typical Zuma law in action,” Manyi said.

Charges

The 81-year-old Zuma and French arms manufacturer, Thales, are facing multiple charges including fraud‚ corruption, money laundering, and racketeering, in connection with the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal procurement concluded in the late 1990s while he was vice president.

It is the State’s case Zuma was kept on a corrupt retainer by his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, who then used his political clout to further his own business interests.

The NPA also claimed Shaik facilitated a R500 000 a year bribe for Zuma from French arms company Thales, in exchange for his “political protection” from a potentially damaging Arms Deal inquiry.

Zuma and Thales have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

ALSO READ: Judge Koen recuses himself from Zuma’s arms deal trial