News / South Africa / Courts

Thapelo Lekabe
Digital Journalist
3 minute read
21 Oct 2021
4:33 pm

NPA questions timing of Zuma’s charges against Downer

Thapelo Lekabe

The NPA has defended Downer, saying he is a highly respected prosecutor who has carried himself with integrity throughout his career.

Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: File

Former president Jacob Zuma on Thursday laid a criminal complaint against the lead prosecutor in his arms deal corruption trial, advocate Billy Downer, but the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it was concerned about the timing of his decision, considering the court still has to rule on his attempt to have Downer removed from his case.

Zuma laid the criminal complaint at the Pietermaritzburg police station, following allegations that Downer allegedly leaked his confidential medical records to the media. These claims have been vehemently denied by the NPA.

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NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said they were concerned that the former president opened the case when the Pietermaritzburg High Court was yet to rule on his “special plea” application to remove Downer from prosecuting his arms deal corruption case.

The high court is set to hand down its judgment regarding Zuma’s application on Tuesday 26 October.

“While the law must be allowed to follow its course, the NPA is concerned about the context within which these charges have been laid, and the timing in light of the pending judgment of the high court,” Mhaga said in a statement on Thursday.

The NPA defended Downer’s track record, saying he was a highly respected prosecutor who had carried himself with integrity throughout his career.

The prosecuting body also said it remained committed to upholding due process and the rule of law, and would assess the merits of Zuma’s criminal complaint in an objective manner.

“His reputation speaks for itself. All NPA prosecutors are required to act without fear and favour and should feel confident to deliver on their mandates without fear of intimidation.

“However, we will allow the Director of Public Prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal to deal with the matter as and when she receives the case docket from the police,” Mhaga said.

Zuma’s criminal complaint was laid in terms of section 41 (6) of the NPA Act. The section prohibits prosecutors from disclosing information on cases without the permission of the National Director of Public Prosecutions.

Foundation denies claims it’s delaying case

During his appearance at the Pietermaritzburg Police Station, Zuma was flanked by his daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, his lawyer, as well as the spokesperson of his foundation, Mzwanele Manyi.

There was also a group of people who came out to support him, but Zuma did not stay for a media briefing held by his foundation.

Speaking at the briefing, Manyi denied that the criminal complaint against Downer was an attempt to delay the corruption case against Zuma.

He said they decided to open the case against Downer after the Presidency failed to follow up on their complaint against him and the NPA.

Manyi said in the course of Zuma’s case being heard in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, “it became clear to him that there was evidence of criminal conduct that took place in an attempt to manipulate the investigation and prosecution for unlawful purposes”.

His foundation claimed this alleged criminal conduct on the part of the prosecution involved foreign spies and agencies.

“What we have here is an irregularity. When a crime has been committed, that crime must be reported,” Manyi said.

Recusal application

Zuma does not want Downer to prosecute his corruption case because he believes the prosecutor lacks the independence and impartiality to oversee the trial.

Should his “special plea” application be successful, the former president wants the charges against him to be dismissed.

Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales are on trial over the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal. He is facing 16 counts including fraud‚ corruption, money laundering and racketeering. Thales is accused of bribing Zuma and faces four counts.

Zuma is currently out on medical parole that was granted in September by the former national commissioner of correctional services, Arthur Fraser, after the former president was imprisoned for contempt of the Constitutional Court.

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