Zuma's lawyers fuming as NPA misses court deadline in corruption trial

01 March 2019 - 17:43 By Karyn Maughan
Former president Jacob Zuma outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court after his appearance on charges of fraud and corruption on July 27 2018.
Former president Jacob Zuma outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court after his appearance on charges of fraud and corruption on July 27 2018.
Image: Jackie Clausen

The National Prosecuting Authority has missed its court-ordered deadline to explain why former president Jacob Zuma must go on trial for corruption – and his lawyers are fuming.

The state was due to file an answer to Zuma's application for a permanent stay of prosecution by the close of business on Friday, but wrote to his attorney, Daniel Mantsha, on February 21 to say that prosecutors needed until March 11 to do so.

Apart from arguing that the case should be stopped because of the NPA's "undue delays" in both charging him and putting him on trial, Zuma insists the case against him has been fatally tainted by political interference and prosecutorial irregularities.

While Zuma’s application runs into thousands of pages, prosecutor Billy Downer had initially expressed confidence that the state would be able to address the accusations levelled against it by Zuma within a month.

While the NPA has not responded to requests on why it hadn't met its court deadline, the delay comes after prosecutors filed an application to obtain 17 documents from Zuma, which he referred to in his permanent stay application, on February 20.

These documents include Zuma's answers to the NPA about certain aspects of the corruption investigation into him, the NPA’s response to a 2003 letter sent by Zuma's lawyers to prosecutors, letters from the Scorpions to Zuma's lawyers, media reports and NPA media statements.

Zuma's lawyers maintain that the state already has the documents in question.

"Clearly, your letter accusing us of not furnishing you with the right index or annexures was nothing but a way to buy yourselves time," Mantsha said in a February 21 letter to the NPA.

"We do not require any time extensions as you suggest and the NPA has had more than a decade to know what their case is about. We are sceptical about being party to any time delays, after which you may well attribute every delay to our client."

In a follow-up letter, sent on Thursday, February 28, Mantsha again stressed that the NPA had all the documents it sought.

"We also hope that your good office takes this matter as seriously as it is for our client," he added.

"This case may well be a career obsession for some in your legal team and a political game for the NPA, but in fairness, it is about our client’s life. We would appreciate it if your started conducting yourselves in accordance with the principles that guide the NPA's constitutional obligations."

The NPA has declined to comment on any of these assertions. It will now need to apply for condonation from the court in filing its response late.

It is the state's case that Zuma's former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, and his company Nkobi Holdings made 783 payments to Zuma, totalling more than R4m, in the 10 years between October 25 1995 and July 1 2005.

In return for these payments, the state claims, Zuma abused his formal position as MEC and as deputy president of the ANC to do unlawful favours for Shaik and his company.

The state further alleged that French arms company Thales "conspired with Shaik and Zuma to pay Zuma the amount of R500,000 per annum as a bribe" in exchange for Zuma's protection from any arms deal investigations.

While Shaik claimed this payment was in fact a donation to the Jacob Zuma Education Trust, the Durban High Court rejected that claim as "nothing short of ridiculous".

Zuma denies any wrongdoing.