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06 Apr 2009 07:12
South African prosecutors will announce on Monday whether they will drop corruption charges against African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, in a case that has threatened to damage his leadership after this month’s election.
Local media said the corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering charges were widely expected to be dropped, giving Zuma a major boost ahead of an April 22 election.
A decision to scrap the charges would end a long legal saga that has raised doubts over his ability to govern after what is expected to be the most closely contested election since the end of apartheid.
“Zuma’s freedom fight ends” read the banner headline in the Star newspaper. Business Day said Zuma was widely expected to be “let off the hook” on Monday.
Citing unnamed sources, the Sunday Times had also reported that the charges would be scrapped.
A High Court judge dismissed the charges but the decision was overturned by the appeals court in January.
The National Prosecuting Authority is due to announce its decision at about 10.30am on Monday.
Talk of cover-up
Zuma denies wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political conspiracy.
A National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson dismissed media speculation of a cover-up to protect Zuma, saying it would explain the reasons for whatever decision it announced.
“I am baffled by comments we are trying to hide away something,” NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali told Talk Radio 702.
“The announcement will be made and the reason for that particular decision will be provided,” he said.
Seeing the charges dropped would be a great relief for the resilient Zuma after a battle to clear his name.
But he still has to deliver on promises to spend more on millions of poor South Africans while reassuring investors who worry he could steer the economy to the left.
ANC supporters have become increasingly disillusioned with corruption scandals and the power struggles that saw Zuma’s rival, former president Thabo Mbeki, pushed out of office.
The Congress of the People (Cope) could reduce the ANC’s dominance in Parliament in the face of growing public anger over graft, poor services, poverty and crime.
Zuma was deputy president for six years before he was sacked in 2005 by Mbeki after being implicated in a trial that saw Schabir Shaik, his former financial adviser, convicted of fraud and corruption charges. Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in May 2006.
Much of the speculation about the case has centred on secret tape-recordings allegedly revealing that Mbeki conspired with the NPA to put Zuma in the dock for graft linked to the arms deal.
The NPA has refused to say whether the tapes exist or not, and it was not certain whether it would reveal the nature of representations recently made by Zuma in a bid to have the case withdrawn.
The Sunday Times reported that Zuma had already been assured his legal woes were over. City Press however quoted sources calling the outcome “a cliffhanger” and charging that Zuma’s entourage had put out propaganda to convince the public the case was over and force the NPA to capitulate for the sake of stability.
The opposition at the weekend warned against a “cover-up” and insisted Zuma must be made to answer the case, which consists of 16 charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering and money-laundering linked partly to the arms deal.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said if the charges were withdrawn, she would consider taking legal action to have them reinstated. Zille said she would attend the NPA’s press conference on Monday morning, despite being told that only the media were welcome.
For the past fortnight, it had been reported that Zuma confronted the NPA with a bombshell in the form of illicit tapes revealing that Mbeki colluded with ex-Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy to bury Zuma.
City Press suggested the tapes may not exist and said that a remark attributed to McCarthy, in which he told Mbeki “you will always be my president” did not provide proof of political meddling.
The newspaper cited unnamed sources claiming it was merely a polite reply to a downcast Mbeki joking that he could no longer be called president, after Zuma wrested the ANC leadership from him at the party’s conference in Polokwane.
They said the Zuma camp had quoted it out of context as part of a “desperate” bid to create a public perception that the case was history, and make Mpshe fear that pressing ahead regardless could destabilise the country.
Several newspapers reported that Mpshe would ask the police to investigate the allegations Zuma made in his representations to have the charges against him scrapped.
Pre-empting the move, the United Democratic Movement warned Mpshe not to pass the buck to a police force tainted by rumours that it had spied on Mbeki and the Scorpions and forwarded information to Zuma.
“It is the same police who have been wrongfully investigating NPA staff and displaying their partisan bias by leaking illegal surveillance to Mr Zuma ... and cannot be expected now to seriously investigate this matter,” UDM president Bantu Holomisa said.
“The NPA and the ANC’s credibility are on the line.” - Reuters, Sapa
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