The Pietermaritzburg High Court has postponed former president Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial to 17 May 2022.
Judge Piet Koen deferred the trial on Monday due to Zuma’s “reconsideration application” before the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
The SCA in March dismissed with costs Zuma’s appeal against his “special plea” application to have state prosecutor Advocate Billy Downer removed from leading the arms deal corruption trial.
The court found that Zuma’s appeal had no reasonable prospects of success and there was “no other compelling reason why an appeal should be heard”.
However, the former president’s legal team asked SCA president Mandisa Maya to reconsider that decision.
Corruption trial postponed
Judge Koen postponed the trial to May until the SCA concludes on Zuma’s reconsideration application. He said the case would be postponed to a provisional date as the high court was unsure when the SCA process would conclude.
“The appeal process should be allowed to run its course,” judge Koen said.
Although the postponement of the corruption trial was unfortunate, Koen said it was permissible by law.
“When weighing all the relevant facts and circumstances alluded to by all the relevant parties, the conclusion I’ve reached is that the trial must be adjourned to allow the reconsideration application submitted to the president of the SCA to be deposed of.”
Judge Koen said once the SCA decides on Zuma’s application, the trial should go ahead without delay. He said if the SCA does not rule on the matter by 17 May, another date would be scheduled for the start of the trial.
“The adjournment is granted on the basis that if the application… has been deposed of by 17 May 2022, the trial shall resume at 10am on 31 May 2022 and shall continue thereafter for the remainder of the second, third and fourth terms of the 2022 court calendar of this court,” Koen said.
Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales, which allegedly bribed Zuma, is on trial over the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal concluded in the late 1990s.
The former president faces 18 charges and 783 counts of fraud‚ corruption, money laundering, and racketeering – while Thales is facing four counts.
‘Made up application’
Earlier, Downer argued that Zuma’s reconsideration application was “just a made up application” that had absolutely no merit of success at the SCA.
“It just appears to be an attempt to put the application in the realm of exceptional circumstances, when really there are no such exceptional circumstances,” Downer said.
Zuma’s lawyer, Advocate Dali Mpofu, said Downer’s description of Zuma’s reconsideration application as “a made up application” was an insult.
He insisted that his client wanted his day in court to clear his name.
“This gratuitous insult of ulterior motives and Stalingrad [defence] – and delays and so on – is not borne out by the evidence before your lordship… Mr Zuma has consistently done everything in his power for this matter to proceed,” Mpofu said.
Downer also argued the state would not support the trial being postponed indefinitely, after Mpofu confirmed the former president had asked that the case be postponed indefinitely so that he could pursue his various mooted appeals.
Downer accused Zuma’s legal team of employing a Stalingrad legal defence.
“Further postponements have the effect of delaying justice [and] erode the public’s confidence in the system of justice because it’s yet another postponement in a long-running series of postponements, and is yet another unending end of the end,” he said.
Zuma’s absent in court
Zuma was not present in court on Monday due to ill health.
Mpofu informed Judge Koen that his client was not in court due to a “medical emergency”. He said Zuma’s doctors advised him not to attend court.
“There was a medical emergency which took place in the past few hours and we have been liaising with the doctors, and the situation is being attended to.
“We are assured we might get some kind of documentation later today,” Mpofu said.
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The spokesperson for the foundation, Mzwanele Manyi, said this was due to the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) decision not to prosecute Downer over the claims.
The NPA dismissed Zuma’s fresh bid to get Downer recused from his corruption trial, describing his latest move as a “delaying tactic”.