President Jacob Zuma to be prosecuted for graft

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa

South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that President Jacob Zuma can face prosecution over almost 800 charges of corruption relating to a 1990s arms deal.

Zuma had lodged a challenge at the court in Bloemfontein after a lower court decided in 2016 to reinstate the charges that were previously discontinued by prosecutors.

“The reasons for discontinuing the prosecution given… do not bear scrutiny,” said Supreme Court judge Eric Leach who read the ruling.

Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Bloemfontein, said the case piled further pressure on Zuma who is already facing several scandals.

“Zuma as deputy president was facing corruption charges that were controversially dropped by the then-head of the Prosecuting Authority. The reason he gave at the time was on the basis of secretly recorded phone conversations, which he said suggested a political interference of the legal pursuit of then-deputy president Jacob Zuma,” Page said.

“As a consequence, Zuma was then sacked by then-president Thabo Mbeki. So this has hung over Zuma for many years and has been pursued by the opposition alliance doggedly in court,” she added.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party had sought in 12 court appearances since 2009 to reactivate the charges over controversial post-apartheid military contracts which have dogged Zuma for much of his time in government.

The president, who is accused of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and racketeering, has always insisted he is innocent.

Zuma and other government officials were accused of taking kickbacks from the $5bn purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and other arms manufactured by five European firms, including British military equipment maker BAE Systems and French company Thales.

Charges were first brought against Zuma in 2005 but dropped by prosecutors in 2009.

Steven Friedman, director for the study of democracy at the University of Johannesburg, told Al Jazeera it was still unclear if Zuma would be charged as a result of the judgement.

“The impression is that he is going to be charged, but there certainly wasn’t an instruction to prosecute”.

In terms of Zuma’s future, Friedman said that it was now in the hands the ANC over the next three months to decide if they want to remove him.

Francis Antonie, director of Helen Suzman Foundation in Johannesburg, said the judgement was not unexpected but certainly welcomed, adding that all eyes were now on the NPA to prosecute Zuma.

“If they don’t take it up, there is the strong likelihood of a private prosecution taking place. There are many organisations talking to each other about taking it up if the NPA fails to do so.”

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