The corruption trial of former president Jacob Zuma and his co-accused, French arms manufacturer Thales, resumed today in the Pietermaritzburg High Court after a week-long break, only to be postponed until 19 July by Judge Piet Koen. This will give the state time to analyse the documents related to the special plea Zuma has entered for the removal of lead prosecutor, Advocate Billy Downer of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and prepare its response.
Meanwhile, Zuma and his co-accused French arms manufacturer Thales, entered pleas of not guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering, corruption, and fraud relating to South Africa’s arms deal of 1999. Zuma is accused of lobbying for the group in exchange for payments from them.
The trial was initially set to run from 17 May to 20 June 2021, and such days afterwards as are required.
The court today heard arguments from Zuma’s team relating to the special plea. The defence has claimed that Downer does not have ‘title to prosecute’. It argues that his impartiality and independence is in question and the prosecution case has been tainted. Judge Koen, dealing with the matter, said the case law on this issue is very limited and added that the plea “is not a recusal”.
Media also reported that if his application for Downer’s removal is successful, Zuma wants to be immediately acquitted of all charges.
The NPA has dismissed the claims, saying the application makes allegations but fails to substantiate them with supporting documentation.
“You have a document that purports all sort of conspiracy theories with no supporting documentation so we can respond effectively… those are the papers we need so we’re able to be in a position to reply effectively to their plea,” said spokesperson Sipho Ngwema.
The NPA emphasised that it disputes, both legally and factually, the claims put forth in Zuma’s special plea.