Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS
Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS

Three high court judges have dismissed former President Jacob Zuma’s claims that his corruption prosecution was too tainted by political interference to go ahead.

In a unanimous 76-page ruling delivered on Friday morning, the high court in Pietermaritzburg found that there was “no evidence” that former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) acting head Mokotedi Mpshe’s 2007 decision to reinstate corruption charges against Zuma was politically motivated.

Mpshe had reversed that decision in 2009, on the basis that the so-called spy tape recordings of former Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy and former NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka discussing the timing when Zuma should be charged, in relation to the ANC’s 2007 electoral conference, showed that there had been political interference in Zuma’s prosecution.

His decision was overturned in court, and judges Bhekisisa Mnguni, Thoba Poyo-Dlwati and Esther Steyn have now effectively reiterated their support for that decision.

“In our view, no case has been made before us that Mr Mpshe’s decision to initially charge Mr Zuma was in any way politically motivated.”

As a result, the judges said, the appeal court’s decision on the spy tapes case “paved the way for Mr Zuma to have his day in court something which he is alleged to have expressed”.

Former President Jacob Zuma has lost his bid to avoid prosecution for corruption charges on October 11 2019. Zuma will appear in the trial court on October 15 2019, when he will face corruption charges.

“The seriousness of the offences that Mr Zuma is facing outweighs any prejudice which he claims he will suffer if the trial proceeds. Furthermore, the reputational harm, which he claims to have suffered, goes hand in hand with being charged. In any event, this does not seem to have prevented him from ascending to the highest office in the country.”

The judges went on to vindicate Ngcuka’s decision, when he was national director of public prosecutions, to not put Zuma on trial with his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted of corrupting him in 2005. Ngcuka argued that, at the time, he did not believe the state had a strong enough case against Zuma, despite there being “prima facie” evidence against him.

“As we see it, even if a joint trial would have had some benefit for Mr Zuma of which he was deprived of as a result of his prosecution being separated from Mr Shaik and the Nkobi group, it does not constitute prejudice of any kind, which would impact on the fairness of his trial,”  the high court ruled on Friday.

“Any delay during this period would be justifiable if one has regard to Mr Ngcuka’s explanation and the fact that the investigations were ongoing.”

Zuma now faces charges in relation to his allegedly corrupt relationship with Shaik, during which the state contends Shaik facilitated a R500,000/year bribe for him from French arms company Thales. The state contends that the bribe was in exchange for Zuma’s “political protection” from any potential investigation of the multibillion-rand arms deal — of which Thales had benefited significantly.

Thales’s legal challenge to former NPA head Shaun Abrahams’s decision to pursue the corruption case against it has also been dismissed.

Zuma and Thales return to court on Tuesday.

Zuma smiled and greeted journalists and his small group of supporters as he left court, but did not deliver his usual public address.