shoot and scoot
Zuma charges: New team, new strategy?
Having fired his long-time attorney and appointed a new and larger team of lawyers, the next move in Jacob Zuma’s strategy to avoid facing trial for corruption is keenly awaited
Jacob Zuma makes his third appearance in court this week on graft charges, with an entirely new and bigger legal team to fight charges laid more than a decade ago.
What the evasive former president’s next move will be in his battle to avoid facing a trial judge is yet to be seen.
But Zuma appears to be sticking to his "Stalingrad defence" — deploying every possible legal diversion to stop his prosecution on 16 charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. The charges relate to 783 questionable payments connected with the arms deal, which led to the jailing of his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.
The next reveal of his trial strategy will be in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Friday.
At his two most recent appearances in Durban, the former president indicated he would lodge an application for a review of the decision by the national director of public prosecutions to charge him.
But by Tuesday no application had been lodged.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Zuma had replaced his long-time attorney, Michael Hulley, with former Denel chair Daniel Mantsha, an associate of the Gupta family. Hulley represented Zuma for more than a decade, keeping him from going to trial and, by default, from possibly going to prison.
Mantsha featured in the leaked Gupta e-mails last year, which showed how he liaised with the Guptas when taking certain decisions at Denel. The leaks revealed what appeared to be highly damaging correspondence between Mantsha and the Guptas about the establishment of Denel Asia, a joint venture between the group and Gupta associates. Other e-mails showed Mantsha sending his personal bills to the Guptas. It’s not known if the family paid them.
Earlier this year, Zuma pleaded poverty. In March Hulley, who was still his lawyer at the time, said that without state funding, the former president would not have the means to defend himself in court. This was despite Zuma receiving a lifelong salary as a former head of state. Yet Zuma has axed his long-time advocate, Kemp J Kemp, instead appointing four senior advocates and one junior counsel — a costly exercise — ahead of this week’s hearing.
The Sunday Times reported that his new team includes Michael Hellens and Dawie Joubert — two senior counsel who are acting for Zuma’s son Duduzane and the Gupta family in state-capture criminal cases. Others on his legal team are Thabani Masuku, Muzi Sikhakhane and Sikhakhane’s son Mpilo, a junior counsel. Hellens reportedly confirmed the names of the new legal team but declined to say how they are being funded.
The presidency has said it will only fund one senior advocate and two juniors, as was previously agreed.
It is quite possible that Zuma will use the appointment of a new legal team as a ruse to have proceedings delayed even further, arguing that all the institutional knowledge of the case would have been lost with Hulley and Kemp.
Zuma is also still fighting over who will fund his legal fees. The DA and EFF have lodged court applications asking that the state, which has been footing the bill since 2006, no longer do so.
Zuma earlier agreed with the presidency that the state would continue to fund his defence, but if found guilty he would pay back the money.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and the justice department are not opposing the DA and EFF applications, and say they will abide by whatever decision the court reaches.
The uncertainty around funding could provide further grounds for Zuma to try to delay the corruption case. The agreement on Zuma’s legal funding applies only to the actual corruption trial, and not to applications brought on the sidelines.
Zuma missed a July 18 court deadline to explain why he believes the state should continue funding his defence.
Another issue that could delay matters is a request by Zuma’s co-accused, French arms manufacturer Thales, that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) review its decision to charge the company. It is not clear on what grounds Thales wants the decision reviewed or whether the NPA will make a decision before this week’s court date.
It is understood that if the NPA declines to review the decision, the company could apply for a permanent stay of prosecution.
The NPA has said it is ready to go to trial in November but whether this happens remains to be seen, because no-one has yet seen the tricks in Mantsha’s playbook. Attempts to contact the lawyer were fruitless.
If past performance is anything to go by, however, we could see another detour in an already lengthy and intricate court battle.