PETERMARITZBURG: The lengthy corruption trial of jailed ex-South African President Jacob Zuma was due to reopen almost Monday, despite the brutal violence that has engulfed the country since his incarceration in an unrelated case.
Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, bribery and racketeering in connection with the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment from five European arms firms when he was deputy president.
He is accused of accepting bribes from one of the firms, the French defense giant Thales, which is accused of corruption and money laundering.
The trial began in May after numerous delays and delays as Zuma’s legal team worked diligently to drop the charges.
79-year-old Zuma, who personally appeared at the opening, declared his innocence.
Thales also pleaded not guilty, and the next hearing is scheduled for Monday.
On June 29, Zuma was separately found guilty of contempt of South Africa’s Supreme Court for disdaining investigators who investigated his time as president. A week later he was sent to prison.
– Teflon President –
Then South Africa plunged into chaos: in Zuma’s home region of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as in the province of Gauteng, looting and riots erupted, claiming more than 200 lives.
The riots were widely regarded as, at least in part, a reaction to Zuma’s imprisonment.
Analysts warn Monday’s virtual hearing could rekindle tensions that have eased over the weekend.
“People will observe the behavior of the judges,” said Sipho Sipe, a research fellow at the University of Zululand in KwaZulu-Natal.
“If they feel that justice has not been done, they will protest.”
Hearings on Monday will focus on a statement from Zuma’s legal team that Attorney General Billy Downer would withdraw from the case over claims he was leaked to the media.
The National Attorney’s Office said it would “strongly” object to this statement.
Despite the digital staging of the hearings, Zuma’s supporters are likely to gather in front of the Pietermaritzburg High Court, as in previous hearings.
Zuma’s lawyers have argued that the virtual format is unconstitutional and have petitioned to postpone the trial.
His foundation confirmed on Twitter late Sunday night that the ex-president will be attending Monday’s hearings virtually “due to the adjournment of the trial.”
Zuma and his supporters have repeatedly dismissed the test of the ex-president’s behavior as politically motivated and warned that his imprisonment would cause unrest.
But they deny any involvement in the recent release of tower oil.
Zuma, who was once called the “Teflon President”, meanwhile, is trying to get his 15-month prison sentence lifted.
He was arrested for disobeying an order from the Constitutional Court to testify before a panel of judges investigating corruption during his presidency. – AFP