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NPA counters attack by Zuma Foundation ahead of court appearance in arms-deal case

The National Prosecution Authority (NPA) has described former president Jacob Zuma’s claim that his arms-deal corruption case will be unnecessarily delayed this week and should, therefore, be struck off the roll as “exceedingly disingenuous”.

Zuma on Sunday suggested his scheduled court appearance in the graft case in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday amounted to an attempt to drag out the matter, because it had learned the state had asked to proceed to trial on 17 May.

The foundation then proceeded to impugn the prosecuting authority.

“While these postponements carry on, President Zuma’s rights [sic] to be continuously violated and the narrative that he is guilty continues as the NPA’s propaganda,” it said.

“We hope that the judiciary will not tolerate any further abuse of the process.”

In fact, the appearance of 23 February was scheduled last year for the court to set a trial date once it had dealt with an application by Zuma’s co-accused, the local subsidiary of French arms-manufacturer Thales, to have racketeering charges against it withdrawn.

“The matter was last postponed to 23 February, pending the challenge to the racketeering charges by Thales,” the NPA said.

“When Thales lost its challenge and decided not to appeal, it paved the way for the trial to proceed in earnest.”

It stressed that Tuesday was never a trial date, but intended to allow the parties to resolve outstanding pretrial management issues and agree on a trial date, among other housekeeping issues.

Both the state and Thales note that 17 May was the trial’s preferred date to begin, but it remained in the court’s hands.

“It is exceedingly disingenuous to pretend that the trial date was set down for 23 February,” the NPA added.

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering and money-laundering stemming from the 1999 strategic arms procurement programme to overhaul post-apartheid South Africa’s military hardware.

He was initially meant to go on trial in 2006 and lost a court bid to have the charges withdrawn. The charges were set aside in 2009 by the then head of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe, and reinstated in 2018, mere months after Zuma’s forced resignation.

Thales then sought to have racketeering charges linked to corrupt payments to the former president set aside, but this application was dismissed in late January, strengthening the state’s case.

The attack by Zuma’s eponymous foundation on the NPA comes after a week in which he has repeatedly accused the judiciary of bias after he flouted a third summons to testify before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. 

He now faces a possible prison term as the commission prepares to ask the Constitutional Court to rule him in contempt for defying the summons, which was made an order of the court.

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