The Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday dismissed former president Jacob Zuma’s application to have advocate Billy Downer recused from prosecuting his arms deal corruption trial.
Judge Piet Koen dismissed Zuma’s special-plea application and ordered that his corruption trial should proceed.
Zuma’s legal team had raised 14 grounds for Downer to be recused, but Koen dismissed them after finding that many of them were “based on speculation or suspicion or are based on inadmissible hearsay evidence and not on fact”.
“Even in limited instances, they might have at best qualify as possible irregularities, these irregularities were not as such to require Mr Downer ‘s removal as a prosecutor and did not deprive him of the title, even in the extended sense of that word contended for by Mr Zuma to prosecute,” he said.
The arms deal corruption trial is set to resume on 11 April 2022.
Zuma had objected to Downer leading his prosecution on behalf of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), claiming that Downer lacks the title to prosecute him and is biased against him.
The former head of state wanted to be acquitted of the corruption charges against him if his application was successful.
Koen found that Zuma’s demand for acquittal in terms of section 106(1)(h) Criminal Procedure Act was incorrect.
“The ultimate question to be answered is therefore not whether the prosecutor is not independent or not impartial or biased or not sufficiently independent or impartial, but whether the accused will ultimately receive a fair trial.
“Whether a fair trial is to be received is a question for the trial court to determine and decide when it decides or determines that it is appropriate to do so. But these considerations do not affect ‘title to prosecute’.”
Last week, Zuma laid a criminal complaint against Downer at the Pietermaritzburg Police Station for allegedly leaking his confidential medical records to the media.
But the NPA has denied the claims against Downer, describing him as a highly respected prosecutor who had carried himself with integrity throughout his career.
It also accused Zuma of regurgitating old falsehoods in an attempt to delay the start of his corruption trial.
Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales are on trial over the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal. He, along with the firm, are facing multiple counts including fraud‚ corruption, money laundering and racketeering.