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

Three judges will decide whether the corruption prosecution of former president Jacob Zuma will go ahead — and he is not happy about it.

With less than two weeks to go before the hearing of Zuma’s application for a permanent stay of his prosecution, his lawyers have formally objected to the decision to increase the bench that will decide Zuma’s fate from one to three.

Three judges are typically allocated to cases that are seen as legally complex, or carrying significant public interest.

Zuma’s lawyers appear to believe that his application does not justify a full bench — and may also be apprehensive that convincing at least two of those three judges that his case should be dropped may be significantly more challenging than convincing one.

In a letter to Pietermaritzburg high court judge president Achmat Jappie, Zuma’s attorney Daniel Mantsha asks him to provide “reasons for such a decision … in order to determine how best to proceed with this matter”.

He further states that although lawyers for Zuma’s co-accused, French arms company Thales, were notified of this change in April, “We have not received any formal notification of the decision by the judge president changing the panel hearing our client’s application.”

Mantsha says it “has become clear to us” that Jappie’s office had advised lawyers for Thales and the state about the decision and “deemed it unnecessary to advise us as the legal representatives of the first accused, Mr Zuma.

“Obviously and unsurprisingly, the state and the attorneys for the first accused [Thales] do not object to this change of the panel about which only they have been informed by the honourable court.

“We register our objection to the manner in which this has been handled without seeking our views …”

Both Zuma and Thales, the company accused of offering him a R500,000 a year bribe to protect it from any potential investigations into SA’s multibillion-rand arms deal, are fighting for the decades-old cases against them to be permanently dropped.

But while Thales appears to have no issue with three judges making that call, Zuma’s legal team have repeatedly stated that only the judge who has been handling the case thus far, deputy judge president Mjabuliseni Madondo, should rule on the case.

They made it clear that they regarded any change in the bench hearing Zuma’s case as “an irregularity and tampering with a panel of an already constituted criminal court”.

“Our view is that the trial court is the duly constituted panel to hear this application and we have not been furnished with any factual or legal reasons as to why this panel has been changed.”

The office of the state attorney in KwaZulu-Natal, which has been handling the logistics of the Zuma stay application, declined to comment.