Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUPPLIED
Jacob Zuma Jacob Zuma. Picture: SUPPLIED

Former president Jacob Zuma would not have resorted to the courts so many times to avoid facing criminal charges   if he did not have state funding, the EFF told the high court on Tuesday.

For more than a decade Zuma has used many court applications to avoid charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering, mostly at state expense.

This was made possible by an agreement the former president had with the presidency which allowed him to use state resources to defend himself. The agreement included an understanding that Zuma would pay back costs if he lost cases.

How much Zuma would have to pay back is not entirely clear. The DA and the presidency say it amounts to about R15m, but the EFF says it  estimates costs at about R32m.

Tuesday's  application to review and set aside that agreement with the presidency was brought by the DA and supported by the EFF.

The DA argued that Zuma should not have received state funding as he was charged in his personal capacity. The official opposition also demanded the former president pay back the money the state has spent.   

The DA’s counsel, Sean Rosenberg SC,  said there was no reason Zuma could not afford to repay the millions in legal fees as his income between 1999 and 2017 amounted to about R30m.

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering, stemming from 783 alleged payments to him in relation to the arms deal when he was KwaZulu-Natal MEC of economic affairs and tourism.

The charges were dropped in 2009 and reinstated earlier this year.

Zuma was formally reindicted on March 16 2018 after he made fresh representation to the former national director of public prosecutions (NDPP), Shaun Abrahams, on why he should not be charged. 

This was after the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the court finding that the decision by former acting NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe to drop the charges was irrational.  

Counsel for the EFF Tembeka Ngcukaitobi told the court that the charges against Zuma had nothing to do with the office of the presidency. He said that Zuma was given preferential treatment because he was president of the ANC and of the country. Ngcukaitobi said there were nine cases argued altogether, and that each subcase was funded by the state.

“He was not liable to pay anything,” Ngcukaitobi said.

He said Zuma was able to embark on what Zuma’s then counsel, Kemp J Kemp called a “Stalingrad strategy” only because he had “unlimited access to funds”.

Ngcukaitobi said there seemed to have been a failure of proper record keeping on Zuma’s funding.

Thabani Masuku SC, for Zuma, said the DA’s application should be dismissed as the party should have brought the application years ago when it first became aware that Zuma’s criminal trial was being funded by the state in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

Masuku said the DA would have known by at least 2008, based on  parliamentary questions and answers, that the state was funding Zuma.

The DA brought the application to review the agreement after it became known this year that the state would continue funding Zuma’s legal costs relating to the trial until the agreement was reviewed and set aside.

Masuku did not give a yes or no answer when asked if they would have litigated in any other way if the state was not footing the bill. He did, however, say that Zuma had suffered prejudice while there was no clarity on whether the state would continue funding his trial.    

“The prejudice to president Zuma is this uncertainty around the issue of what resources he has in order  to defend himself. He doesn’t have the assurance now that the state will pay for his fees,” Masuku said.

He said that if the court agreed with the opposition parties that Zuma should pay back the funds he would have to find the amount within months.