/ 14 February 2008

Zuma turns to highest court in graft case

African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma has asked the Constitutional Court to strike down a court ruling allowing seized documents to be used against him in a corruption case.

Zuma, elected president of the ANC in Polokwane in December, is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a French arms manufacturer. He is scheduled to go on trial for corruption, money-laundering, fraud and racketeering in August.

Zuma and defence attorney Michael Hulley argue that investigators violated their rights, including their right to privacy, when they raided properties belonging to Zuma and Hulley in 2005.

“We submit in the circumstances that constitutional matters [and constitutional matters of substance] are therefore raised in this application,” Zuma and Hulley said in their appeal of a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling in November.

That court had ruled that the documents seized by South Africa’s elite FBI-style Scorpions anti-corruption unit could be used against Zuma when went to trial, despite finding some problems with the warrants.

Zuma’s trial is due to begin in August and could deal a blow to his hopes of succeeding President Thabo Mbeki in 2009.

Zuma in Mauritius

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that Zuma was in Mauritius on Wednesday in connection with the corruption case.

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

Zuma and Thint were trying to stop the state from getting the documents held in Mauritius. A two-day court hearing on that issue was to open on March 11 following a November ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal that the state could 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”.

Trial looms

If Zuma succeeds with his application it could be the end of the road for the prosecution. If the application is denied, Zuma and Thint and Thint Holdings will stand trial in the Pietermaritzburg High Court from August 4 to December 12.

The indictment of 84 pages against Zuma and Thint is a more exhaustive document than any of the previous charge sheets against the accused or Zuma’s friend and fraud convict, Schabir Shaik.

It indicates the progress made by the Scorpions in their investigation since the case against Zuma and Thint was thrown out of court in September 2006. Zuma previously faced only two charges of corruption based on the indictment in the Shaik trial.

Fourteen charges have now been added, including the crime of racketeering. The essence of the racketeering charge is that Zuma, Thint and Shaik effectively formed an enterprise (Nkobi Investments) that existed because of their alleged corrupt deeds.

The rest of the new charges are one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud — two relate to his alleged non-declaration of benefits to Parliament and Cabinet, one to him allegedly lying to Parliament and the rest concern tax evasion by not revealing his payments from Shaik to the South African Revenue Service.

The addition of racketeering as the “umbrella charge” means Zuma is no longer viewed as the outsider politician who was lured by independent entities into accepting bribes. The state now argues that he was intimately part of the corrupt enterprise and even refers to him as an “employee” or “associate” of Nkobi Investments.