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Jacob Zuma is making a last-ditch effort to avoid facing graft charges as he prepares to apply for a permanent stay of prosecution.

For a permanent stay of prosecution, Zuma’s lawyers would have to show that the former president had suffered irreparable trial prejudice, and therefore legal proceedings should be stopped.

After more than a decade, Zuma still seems to be hinging his defence on allegations that the case against him is politically motivated.

Zuma appeared in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg last week, his third appearance for the year, where his new legal team set out their plan to help keep Zuma out of jail.

No review application

Advocate Mike Hellens told the court on Friday Zuma would no longer be lodging a review application of the decision to charge him, opting instead to apply for a permanent stay of prosecution. This, he said, would hinge on "four pillars".

These included a delay in charging Zuma and in going to trial, and the spying and "eavesdropping" on Zuma. Hellens referred to the Browse Mole report and the so-called spy tapes. He said the fourth "pillar" concerned "executive interference with prosecutorial independence".

On executive interference, Hellens told the court this was most ominous and sad for the country. It is unclear whether he was referring to former president Thabo Mbeki or President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The corruption charges against Zuma were dropped in 2009 by then acting National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Mokotedi Mpshe, based on the fact that he believed there was political interference in the decision on when to serve the indictment on Zuma.

The first indictment served on the former president was when Mbeki was at the helm of the country and the ANC. The discussion on the indictment took place ahead of the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference, at which Zuma and Mbeki were contesting the party’s presidency. The allegations of a political plot were based on recordings of telephone conversations between then Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy, a staunch Mbeki supporter, and former NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka.

Spy tapes

These recordings, known as the spy tapes, partly informed Mpshe’s decision to drop the charges against Zuma, a decision the High Court in Pretoria found irrational in 2016. Based on this ruling, Zuma’s own legal team conceded in the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2017 that the decision to drop the charges had been irrational.

Ten years later Zuma was again staring down the barrel of a gun as he awaited the NPA’s decision on whether to charge him once again, and at the same time fought to keep his position as head of state, as the ANC under the leadership of Ramaphosa pushed to recall him. On February 14, Zuma was finally forced to resign as the country’s president and almost a month later, on March 16, national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams announced the former president would face 16 charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Zuma has continued to claim that the charges against him were politically motivated.

Could he now believe that, like Mbeki in 2007, Ramaphosa has been interfering in prosecutorial processes? This argument will come from the man who himself was accused of hollowing out institutions such as the NPA and ensuring that while in power he did not face corruption charges.

Zuma has also been accused of using Stalingrad tactics to keep from having to face his corruption trial.

But his new legal team is saying: "Stalingrad does not exist in this team."

Hellens is confident the application for a permanent stay of prosecution will be successful, and that it will be the end of the story for Zuma.

"A permanent stay is a very realistic option and has great prospect of success," he said.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za

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