South African High Court Dismisses Zuma Bid to Stay His Corruption Prosecution

On October 11, the South African High Court in Pietermaritzburg dismissed the applications of former South African President Jacob Zuma and French aerospace and defense manufacturer Thales for a permanent stay of prosecution in the long-running corruption case against them.  The High Court reportedly took less than five minutes to dismiss the applications and to impose litigation costs on the applicants.

In addition, the High Court granted the application of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to strike certain allegations that Zuma had made against the NPA, including an allegation that an NPA prosecutor was motivated by hatred against him.  The High Court concluded that Zuma’s claims “were scandalous and vexatious.”

The pending case, which includes 16 charges against Zuma such as corruption, fraud, racketeering, and money laundering, stems from R30 billion ($2.5 billion) in arms sales, dating back to the 1990s, involving naval vessels, submarines, fighters, and other equipment by European countries to South Africa for modernization of the South African armed forces.  Though the South African government under then-President Nelson Mandela made that deal, the deal reportedly “led to what is considered the single biggest instance of public corruption in the history of post-apartheid South Africa.”  In particular, Zuma, who was Deputy President when the arms deal was made final in 1999, is accused of accepting a R500,000 per year bribe from Thales.

N.B.: The speed with which the High Court ruled on this application stands in dramatic contrast to the glacial pace with which the case against Zuma has moved.  Although Zuma and Thales were originally indicted in 2007, the South African Prosecutor General dropped the case in 2009.  Years later, South African courts ruled that that decision was “irrational,” and in 2018 the South African chief prosecutor – though reportedly close to Zuma —  decided to reinstate the case against Zuma and Thales.

At this stage of the proceedings, Zuma has no incentive to resolve the case in any manner.  Under an agreement between African National Congress (ANC) leaders and Zuma, South Africa has been paying Zuma’s legal fees “because the case relates to actions taken when he was in government,” with the proviso that Zuma would have to repay them if he is ultimately found guilty.

Given the availability of unlimited funds until a guilty verdict, his attorneys have “hewed to a strategy of delaying his trial as long as possible — what analysts have called the ‘Stalingrad strategy’.”  Accordingly, while Zuma is now scheduled to return to court on October 15 to face the charges against him, he can appeal this latest decision by the High Court within the next 15 days, and ultimately take his challenge to the South African Constitutional Court.  In addition, Zuma’s continuing popularity with many ANC supporters is likely to buoy his confidence for some time to come.  For Zuma, justice delayed is not justice denied, but a strategic objective in his war of attrition against the case and the prosecutors.

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