South Africa’s scandal-plagued former president Jacob Zuma will face a corruption trial, a court ruled on Friday (Oct 11), in one of multiple alleged graft cases over his long political career.
The country’s High Court unanimously dismissed Mr Zuma’s bid for a permanent stay of prosecution over 16 counts of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a multibillion-dollar arms deal dating back to before he took office in 2009.
Mr Zuma, who has been accused of taking bribes from French defence company Thales, sought in March to have the case dropped.
He maintained the case was politically motivated and years of delay would result in an unfair trial.
But the trial is now scheduled to begin on Tuesday after High Court Judge Willie Seriti ruled that Mr Zuma’s “application for the permanent stay is dismissed with costs”.
The judge agreed with the prosecution that parts of Mr Zuma’s arguments to have the case thrown out were “scandalous and or vexatious”.
The National Prosecutions Authority’s spokesman Natasha Kara told AFP “the matter has been set down for trial from the 15th to the 18th of October”.
Both Mr Zuma and Thales have denied any wrongdoing, and the former president could still appeal against the ruling, experts have suggested.
But if it goes ahead, it would be the first time the former leader has stood trial on corruption charges, despite a serious of graft allegations.
State lawyer Wim Trengove had pushed for prosecution arguing that if Mr Zuma did not face trial, it gave the impression that he had received special treatment “because he is an important and a powerful man”.
He also said Mr Zuma’s claims that he was a victim of a “witch hunt” were unfounded.
Mr Zuma, who was forced to resign last year over multiple graft allegations, is alleged to have taken the bribes during his time as a provincial economy minister and later as deputy president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the 1990s.
The charges were first brought against Mr Zuma in 2005. They were dropped by prosecutors in 2009, shortly before Mr Zuma became president, and reinstated in 2016.
Thales said in a statement that it “notes the decision of the High Court” and was assessing its legal options.
Political analyst Xolani Dube warned that Mr Zuma could lodge an “urgent” appeal.
“There are also other avenues that the man might still use… he can still appeal so it’s still going to drag,” he told AFP, adding that the country may “not yet see him facing his alleged deeds”.
Mr Zuma, 77, claimed last year that he was so broke that he had to sell his socks to raise legal fees, after another court ruled he should front the bills.
The ANC party forced him to resign last year over a separate corruption scandal centred around the wealthy Gupta business family, who won lucrative contracts with state companies and allegedly held sway over his choice of Cabinet ministers.
The court’s ruling on Friday came just a day after the US Treasury slapped sanctions on the three Indian-born Gupta brothers, calling them a “significant corruption network” that dispensed bribes and misappropriated millions in state funds.
Mr Zuma also appeared before a judicial inquiry in July that is probing allegations he organised a systematic plunder of government coffers in a scandal known as “state capture”.
A few days later he pulled out of the inquiry saying that he had been “treated as someone who was accused”. But he later agreed to return at a future date.