Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA
Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) insists that there is “not a shred of evidence” that the state’s decision to prosecute former president Jacob Zuma for corruption was politically motivated.

Advocate Wim Trengove SC, who is arguing the state’s case for why Zuma and French arms company Thales must be tried for racketeering and corruption, dismissed Zuma’s allegations that his prosecution was fatally tainted by political interference, on Thursday morning.

Trengove further argued that there was a clear “public interest” in ensuring the prosecution of serious crimes, such as the racketeering and corruption charges that Zuma and Thales stand accused of. He added that it was crucial that “powerful political figures” accused of such crimes not get “special treatment”.

He contends that former national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli had little option but to charge Zuma for corruption, given the “devastating” judgment made against Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, who was found guilty of corrupting the then deputy president in 2005.

In the wake of that ruling, Trengove says, it was “inevitable” that Zuma be prosecuted.

Zuma contends that he should have been charged with corruption with Shaik in 2003, and argues that then prosecutions head Bulelani Ngcuka chose not to do so out of fear that Zuma would be vindicated.

But Trengove argues that while Shaik’s prosecution team was adamant that Zuma should be charged alongside him, Ngcuka had sought the advice of eight NPA senior lawyers and a senior counsel, who advised him not to do so.

Trengove contends that, while Ngcuka’s decision making process may have been unusual, it demonstrated that he was taking “an extra precaution to ensure that he got it right”. He said it was easy to judge Ngcuka with hindsight, but there was no evidence that he made his decision in bad faith.

He said Ngcuka, in the wake of his decision, needed to explain why he had chosen to prosecute Shaik — “the ordinary man” — and not Zuma, who was a powerful political figure, and this was why he held his infamous media conference, in which he said that the state had a “prima facie” case against Zuma but not a winnable case.

That media briefing, Trengove said, was about Ngcuka “defending the integrity” of a young NPA.

While Zuma argues that he was denied the chance to cross-examine Shaik by not being charged with him, Trengove contends there is “no guarantee” that Shaik would have testified in his own defence in such a trial.

“There is no reason [Zuma] is worse off now than he would have been then,” Trengove argued, adding: “An accused doesn’t have a right to have a trial designed to his best advantage.”

While former acting NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe unlawfully withdrew the corruption case against Zuma in 2009 on the basis that the so-called “spy tapes” recordings showed “political interference” in the timing of when Zuma was recharged, Trengove contends this decision did not violate Zuma’s rights in any way.

In essence, he argued, Mpshe “gave in” to the representations made by Zuma’s lawyers for the case against him to be dropped. That decision was later ruled to be irrational and unlawful, and overturned.

If anything, Trengove said, Mpshe violated “his oath of office … but not Mr Zuma’s rights”.

While Zuma has argued that he could not receive a fair trial because of the “unreasonable delay” caused by the state in his prosecution, Trengove argued that it was Zuma who was primarily responsible for the 14-year delay in the case proceeding. This, he says, was because of the “Stalingrad” litigation pursued by Zuma “at state expense” to challenge various aspects of the case against him, including the legality of the search and seizure raids conducted on him and his lawyers.

This “luxurious litigation”, he says, has cost the state between R16m and R32m .

Judge Bhekisisa Mnguni then asked Trengove whether it was not Zuma’s right to have the legality of the warrants used to raid him tested by a court of law.

Trengove responded that, even if it was accepted that Zuma had pursued his various legal challenges in good faith, their end result had still been to delay his prosecution.