/ 14 February 2008

Zuma takes legal battle to Mauritius

African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma was in Mauritius on Wednesday in connection with the corruption case he faces.

Zuma’s lawyer, Michael Hulley, confirmed by telephone from the Indian Ocean island that his client was meeting with legal representatives about documents held in Mauritius that allegedly contain proof of bribes being solicited.

”Unfortunately, I can’t give further details,” Hulley said.

Zuma was charged with corruption, money laundering, fraud and racketeering in relation to an alleged multimillion-rand arms deal scandal a week after he was elected leader of the ANC in December. He is to stand trial in August.

Zuma is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of rands in bribes from French company Thint to stop investigations into allegedly corrupt government weapons contracts.

Zuma and Thint are trying to stop the state from getting the documents held in Mauritius.

A two-day court hearing on that issue is to open on March 11 following a November ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal that the state can ahead with a request to Mauritian authorities for access to the documents.

For ”security reasons,” Hulley would not comment on any other details of Zuma’s visit except to say that his client was only going to be on the island for a ”brief period”.

‘Grave misgivings’

Top leaders of the ANC said in January they had ”grave misgivings” about the timing and handling of the corruption charges against Zuma.

The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) said after its first meeting since Zuma had been elected party president that it questioned the National Prosecuting Authority’s handling of the charges against him and said Zuma would still be their candidate for state president in 2009.

In a statement after the meeting, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the party’s top body had ”reaffirmed its support for the ANC president during these trying times”.

”It [the NEC] confirmed that the ANC president will lead the ANC election campaign as the organisation’s candidate for president of South Africa in the 2009 election,” Mantashe added.

Zuma (65) was on December 28 charged with fraud, corruption, money laundering, racketeering and tax evasion following a probe that also implicated Thint.

The trial of Zuma is scheduled for August 4.

Zuma has said he will stand down from his position if found guilty of any offence but he has steadfastly insisted on his innocence.

Zuma was sacked by Mbeki in 2005 after his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty of soliciting bribes. — Sapa–AP