South Africa: Zuma sets precedence, charges dropped

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South African prosecutors Monday dropped corruption charges against Jacob Zuma, handing a major victory to the man who is almost certain to be elected the country’s next president later this month.

Mr Zuma, the leader of the governing African National Congress, claimed his political enemies – including Thabo Mbeki, the former president who was sacked last September – had been using the legal case against him to block his political rise. His backers argued that he could not receive a fair trial and that proceedings would not be in the national interest.

The National Prosecuting Authority said on Monday it would seek to increase its independence after “painful” information had come to light about the manner in which it conducted its investigation into the ANC leader.

The case, linked to a 1990s R30bn ($3.3bn, €2.4bn, £2.2bn) arms deal, has cast a shadow over South African politics for years. It took the latest in a series of dramatic twists late last month when local media reported that Mr Zuma’s team had obtained telephone conversions secretly recorded by intelligence agencies suggesting that former senior prosecutors and investigators conspired with then-President Mbeki against his arch-rival.

That seems to have tilted matters in Mr Zuma’s favour.

Mr Zuma is expected to win this month’s election comfortably. Although it faces opposition from a new party – the Congress of the People (Cope), formed in the wake of Mr Mbeki’s ousting last September – the ANC is still expected to win a significant majority. A recent poll by Ipsos Markinor suggests the ANC will score 64.7 per cent, well ahead of the official opposition Democratic Alliance with a predicted 10.8 per cent and the Cope, which is forecast to score only 8.9 per cent. The ANC won nearly 70 per cent at the last general election in 2004.

“We have always maintained that this is nothing but a political conspiracy but we will await the NPA’s decision,” said Brian Sokutu, an ANC spokesman. Mr Zuma’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for prosecutors would not comment ahead of Monday’s announcement.

The legal saga has been such a roller-coaster that even Monday’s expected decision in Mr Zuma’s favour is unlikely to bring it to a conclusive end.

Mr Zuma denies accusations that he used his influence as then deputy-president in exchange for bribes from a French arms company that won business in the 1999 arms deal.

Schabir Shaik, his former financial advisor, was jailed in 2005 for soliciting bribes on Mr Zuma’s behalf. Mr Mbeki then fired his deputy, only for Mr Zuma to launch an astonishing comeback. Last September a judge quashed the charges and found that Mr Mbeki’s government had meddled in the prosecution. But the ANC head suffered a reverse in January when a higher court threw out the earlier judgment, allowing prosecutors to reinstate the charges.

Financial Times

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