/ 15 May 2008

Zuma lawyers, NPA discuss trial date

Lawyers for African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma will meet prosecutors on Thursday to decide whether his corruption case should begin on August 4, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.

”It is only after the meeting today that we’ll know if the date we have proposed is confirmed,” NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said.

Zuma, who defeated President Thabo Mbeki for the leadership of the ANC in December, is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of rands in bribes from a French arms manufacturer.

He is charged with fraud, bribery, money-laundering and other wrongdoing in connection with the arms deal. The ANC leader has denied the charges and said he will step down from his position if convicted.

The case could overlap with a general election next year, increasing political instability in South Africa.

The ANC and its labour and Communist Party allies have accused Mbeki and other government officials of using the corruption case to smear Zuma’s reputation.

Defence lawyers are trying to stop the case and have filed an appeal with South Africa’s Constitutional Court to overturn a lower court ruling allowing prosecutors to use documents seized in raids on properties belonging to Zuma and one of his lawyers.

They argue the search warrants used in the raids in 2005 were illegal and violated privacy, property and other rights.

Zuma’s team also wants the Constitutional Court to strike down another ruling that cleared the way for South African prosecutors to ask Mauritius to hand over documents, which they claim contain evidence bribes were solicited on behalf of Zuma.

Thousands took to the streets in 2006 to support Zuma during separate rape and corruption trials.

Zuma was acquitted of raping a family friend and his corruption case collapsed on a procedural matter. Prosecutors brought new charges against the ANC leader in late December, just days after he was elected party president. — Reuters