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By Narissa Subramoney

Deputy digital news editor

Arms deal corruption case: Zuma’s lawyers try another approach to get rid of Downer

State prosecutor Billy Downer is now facing an appeal from Zuma's team to step down, in order to ensure the integrity of the court.

Former President Jacob Zuma’s lawyers have appealed to lead state prosecutor Billy Downer to ‘step aside’ from the arms deal corruption case to protect the integrity of the court case.

The 80-year-old former statesman and French arms firm Thales is facing 18 counts of corruption, including money laundering, tax evasion, and racketeering, in connection with the multibillion-rand arms deal.

Zuma’s lawyer, Advocate Sifiso Buthelezi recorded his objection to Downer appearing as the state’s lead prosecutor in the arms deal corruption and fraud matter, saying Downer is the accused in a separate private prosecutions case.

Buthelezi argued that Monday’s court hearing was meant to be a status quo meeting in which Zuma’s legal team were to provide updates on the pre-trial appeals but instead, he was ‘ambushed’ into a ‘non-existent postponement hearing.

Monday’s court hearings had kicked off with Downer arguing for the trial to forge ahead come 7 November despite a pending decision from the Concourt relating to a pretrial application to have him recused.

Zuma conspicuously absent from court

The case is being heard at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg, but it was void of the hype and fanfare seen at last week’s private prosecution case, where the 80-year-old was in attendance.

In the private prosecution case, which is a separate legal matter, Zuma accused state prosecutor Billy Downer of leaking sensitive information to legal journalist Karyn Maughan.

Both Maughan and Downer have denied any wrongdoing.

But this time, Zuma did not attend proceedings, and Downer went from the dock to the prosecutor’s desk, something Buthelezi argued soiled the integrity of the day’s proceedings.

Attempts to end all pretrials before the trial

Downer recounted Zuma’s long legal battle attempting to remove him from the case; from this time, Judge Piet Koen (who presided over Monday’s matter) had dismissed Zuma’s original application last October.

After Judge Piet Koen dismissed that special plea for removing Downer from the case, he then dismissed Zuma’s application to appeal his ruling. Zuma then turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA)to intervene.

But SCA Judge President Mandisa Maya dismissed the special plea application in May, prompting Zuma to approach the Concourt to order the SCA to overturn its decision.

Downer described that application as ‘extraordinary’ saying it would only prolong the appeal process.

The Concourt then dismissed that appeal, but soon after, Zuma’s lawyers brought another application to the apex court for Downer’s removal.

Downer argued that the former president’s prospects of successfully appealing Koen’s original special plea dismissal are very poor; therefore, the trial should resume while they wait for the Concourt to deliver its ruling.

‘All litigation must, at some point, come to an end’

Zuma’s lawyers have since asked the court not to set dates for him to appear for the corruption trial but instead to postpone the case to May next year (while arguing that this was not an application for a postponement.)

Buthelezi has argued that should the Concourt rule that Downer must be recused, there would be grounds for Zuma’s acquittal.

But Downer hit back, labelling Zuma’s relentless and baseless appeals as egregious. He also argued that he is prosecuting the case at the behest of the NPA and National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi. They don’t believe that he is ethically compromised.

Judge Koen has also given both parties until Friday to make submissions on Downer’s continued involvement in the case.

The case has been postponed to Wednesday, 19 October, when Judge Koen is expected to deliver a progress report on the case.

NOW READ: Zuma turns to ConCourt in bid to appeal dismissal of special plea application

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