The High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday morning postponed the fraud and corruption trial against former president Jacob Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales to 26 May 2021.
This after Zuma’s former legal team, led by advocate Eric Mabuza, made oral submissions to the court on their reasons for withdrawing their legal services to the former president.
Zuma’s new legal team led by Advocate Thabani Masuku also told the court it plans to apply for prosecutor Billy Downer’s recusal from the case.
Judge Piet Koen was informed by Zuma’s lawyers the application would be lodged on Wednesday.
Advocate Barry Roux, who represented Thales, told the court they were ready to proceed with trial.
De Lille first witness in corruption trial
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it was also ready for trial, with its first witness in the matter being Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille.
De Lille blew the whistle on the multi-billion rand arms deal almost 22 years ago.
NPA spokesman Sipho Ngwema said they had done all the necessary preparations and all its 217 witnesses were ready to testify.
Advocate Masuku said Zuma had always been ready to proceed with the trial.
In April, Mabuza Attorneys submitted a notice of withdrawal to the high court informing it they would no longer represent Zuma in the matter.
This was just weeks before the long-anticipated start of the trial related to the 1999 strategic defence acquisition, popularly known as the arms deal.
Among the allegations is that the former president received an annual kickback of R500 000 – paid through his then financial advisor Schabir Shaik – in exchange for shielding Thales from an investigation into the deal and he is said to have accepted a total of 783 dodgy payments from the company.
In June 2005, the High Court in Durban found Shaik guilty of corruption and sentenced him to more than 15 years in jail. However, he was later released on medical parole in March 2009.