Johannesburg, Jul 18 (PTI): The corruption trial of former South African president Jacob Zuma is set to resume on Monday with a virtual hearing, despite the country still reeling from the effects of the week-long spree of looting and arson, triggered by his imprisonment in a separate case.
The local arm of the French defence giant Thales, which is a co-accused in the graft case, alleges that Zuma received bribe from the firm in order to protect it from being probed in a case of irregularities in a USD 2-billion arms deal that was exposed by a member of the South African Parliament. He is accused of pocketing four million rand (USD 277,000) in bribes from Thales.
Zuma has denied the charges.
Zuma’s lawyers filed a last-minute application on Saturday for postponement of his corruption trial because he wants to testify in person about why he should be acquitted of corruption without standing trial.
Zuma is currently serving a 15-month sentence by the country’s apex court for contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where several witness have implicated him in corruption. He was arrested in the case on July 7.
Analysts’ say this was just another attempt by Zuma to delays the trials he has been facing for over a decade now.
But now it appears that his lawyers will argue for his acquittal through a “special plea” on Monday, where they are expected to share his view that he should be acquitted of corruption charges because the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is too biased to prosecute him.
In the Commission matter, Zuma had also repeatedly unsuccessfully called for the recusal of the chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, alleging that he was biased towards him.
The NPA had opposed the application for the postponement of the corruption trial after Zuma’s attorney Bethuel Thusini filed it on Saturday, citing that his client could not (while he is in jail) be compelled to have his trial conducted on a virtual platform and/or in his absence.
“I am very mindful that although there will only be argument, that this remains a criminal trial, which ordinarily requires the attendance of the accused,” Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen said.
However, Koen directed that Zuma’s application for a “special plea” be argued virtually because the current Level 4 of a five-level Covid-19 lockdown placed limitations on travel and large gatherings.
The judge has reportedly also asked the authorities to make available facilities at Estcourt Correctional Centre, where Zuma is being held, to enable the former president to follow the proceedings virtually.
The Office of the Chief Justice issued a statement on Sunday requesting members of the media to follow the court proceedings on a YouTube channel, so as to minimise distractions on the virtual proceedings. PTI FH SCY SCY
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