New delay in Zuma case as Thales challenges racketeering charges

The Pietermaritzburg high court has adjourned former president Jacob Zuma’s fraud, corruption and racketeering case until September 8 for the setting of a trial date.

However, a civil review application by his co-accused, French arms deal Thales, to have the racketeering charges against the company set aside, is likely to result in a further delay in the trial going ahead.

Zuma and Thales are charged over a series of unlawful payments allegedly made to Zuma by the company and his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, during the 1990s, over which Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Zuma was charged, but the case was withdrawn, before being reinstated in 2018.

Thales counsel, Advocate Barry Roux SC, told the court that he would bring the application ahead of the matter going to trial, after Zuma’s legal team, led by Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, told Judge Kate Pillay on Tuesday morning that they wanted the matter to proceed in October.

Roux, who became involved in the case in February, said that he had requested documents from the state that justified the racketeering charges, which they would take on review in coming weeks. 

Roux said he was still waiting for the state to provide clarity on the documentary evidence, which his team had been unable to find in the information provided by prosecutor Billy Downer SC thus far.

He said although he would “go with the flow” with regard to a trial date, because his client had no objection to either October or February, it was his responsibility to inform the court of his application, which was almost ready to go to court.

Roux said he had requested evidence of payments that the state said supported charges of racketeering based on common purpose between Zuma, Shaik and Thales, which were still to be supplied by the state.

Downer had asked the court to set a timetable for the further exchange of documents between the parties and for a pretrial hearing, at which the date for the actual trial would be set. Downer said the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown had delayed the process of providing the defence teams with the documents they wanted, which were being transferred to new technology by a firm appointed by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

During Tuesday’s hearing, which was attended by a number of Zuma’s supporters and family members, Judge Pillay withdrew the warrant of arrest for Zuma, which had been issued by the court in February over his absence for medical treatment in Cuba. Zuma had provided a medical certificate, the veracity of which had been questioned by the state, resulting in the warrant being issued.

Pillay said that it was important that the trial go ahead as soon as possible to avoid prejudice to Zuma in particular, because of his advanced age.

Adjourned until September 8

However, the application by Thales, which might go on appeal, was likely to cause delays to any timetable set by the court, she said. Pillay adjourned the case until September 8, saying that a decision on the finalisation of a trial date would have to be taken by the judge who presided over that sitting.

Downer said that they were ready to proceed, once a date had been set, but that the Thales application introduced a new element of uncertainty to the process.

Sikhakhane said that the prosecution kept shifting the goalposts about court readiness and a date on which to proceed, and suggested that the matter be struck from the roll until they were ready to proceed.

The state, he said, had persisted with a narrative that Zuma did not want his day in court, but it was the state and not Zuma who was now ready to proceed.

Sikhakhane said that further delays in the case would continue to prejudice Zuma, who was a “pensioner who cannot afford”’ to pay his legal fees and urged that an October date be set.

He said he and the other members of Zuma’s legal team were representing the former president  without payment “because we believe he deserves justice”. 

Downer said they would deal with the Thales application when it was brought, and would provide the defence teams with the documents they had requested by the time the court sat in September.

Zuma, who had missed an earlier appearance in February because of illness, was in court for the hearing.

The former president’s supporters, who have attended his earlier court appearances, were largely absent, with the exception of ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee members, including secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli, Super Zuma and Mthandeni Dlungwana.

Bishop Vusi Dube, a KwaZulu-Natal ANC MPL and a leader of the eThekwini Community Church was also at court, as was former Durban mayor Zandile Gumede and former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni.

Strict Covid-19 protocols were implemented for the duration of the court appearance, which was also attended by Zuma’s son Edward, who told media outlets that he did not expect his father to get a fair trial because of a long-standing conspiracy against him.

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