Former president Jacob Zuma reacts to supporters outside the Durban High Court, June 8 2018. Picture: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP
Former president Jacob Zuma reacts to supporters outside the Durban High Court, June 8 2018. Picture: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

Former president Jacob Zuma’s lawyers say it’s irrelevant whether he is guilty of the corruption charges he is accused of, but rather whether, in light of the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA's)  “irregular, unfair, unlawful and unconstitutional conduct”, he can still receive a fair trial.

Zuma’s legal team last week filed his final arguments in his application for a permanent stay of his corruption prosecution — his last chance to stop his long-dormant trial from proceeding.

“Zuma seeks this extraordinary remedy on account of the inordinate delay, trial prejudice and the flagrant abuse of power by the NPA ... the effect of which has been the violation of Zuma’s constitutional rights, in particular the right to a fair trial,” his lawyers state in court documents.

While the NPA admits it was responsible for a 22-month delay in Zuma’s trial, Zuma’s lawyers argue that the state is actually to blame for a decade-long pause in his trial. Effectively, they argue, the NPA must be put on trial for the way it mishandled the case against Zuma.

Lead Zuma prosecutor Billy Downer has vehemently denied that the prosecution had been fatally compromised by questionable NPA decisions and undue delay.

Downer has also asked the high court in Pietermaritzburg to strike out more than a dozen “scandalous and vexatious” and “untrue and unwarranted” statements Zuma made in his application for a permanent stay of prosecution.

“First, without any substantiation, Zuma alleges that I hate him  … I am blinded by an obsession with his conviction … I seem nostalgic about the manner in which apartheid prosecutions authorities deal with those they considered guilty or undesirable … and persons within the NPA may have apartheid withdrawal symptoms,” Downer states.

He says Zuma’s claims prejudice the state, are completely untrue and defamatory, and should be removed from the court papers.

The former president is adamant that he should have been put on trial with his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted in 2005 of keeping him on a corrupt retainer to do his bidding. Shaik was also found guilty of facilitating a R500,000 a year bribe for Zuma from French arms company Thales, in exchange for his protection from any potential arms deal investigation.

At the time Shaik was charged, then prosecutions head Bulelani Ngcuka said he had decided not to charge Zuma, despite there being prima facie evidence against him, because he was not sure that case was winnable. He did so against the advice of Downer and his prosecution team.

Zuma’s legal team argues that this decision was “indefensible”.

Downer and the prosecutors who advised then NPA boss Shaun Abrahams to pursue the case against Zuma, after the high court and the appeal court ruled that the decision to withdraw it was irrational, were adamant that Zuma would have been convicted if he had been tried with Shaik.

The only real victim of the failure of the state to prosecute the pair together, they argue, was the “rule of law”.

However, Zuma and his lawyers argue that the prosecution, which dates back to August 23 2003, “has been marred by tardiness, irregularities, prejudice and egregious political interference” — the worst experienced in “post-apartheid SA”.