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Former South African President Jacob Zuma appears in court Monday in Pietermaritzburg on charges of corruption on the sidelines of an arms deal of nearly 3 billion euros, concluded by the French giant Thales. The former head of state is suspected of pocketing 235,000 euros in bribes in 1999.
Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of a long court drama for Jacob Zuma. Former South African President appears in court Monday, May 17, for 16 charges including corruption. He is suspected of having received more than four million rand (or 235,000 euros at the current rate) in bribes in 1999, as part of an armaments contract of nearly 3 billion euros signed with the French giant Thales, also on the dock.
The former head of state (2009-2018) will also have to answer for counts of extortion and money laundering, for facts dating back to 1999, when he was still vice-president, when the French giant d armaments won a contract for the equipment of military planes and ships.
Very quickly, the opposition South African accuses the authorities of corruption in the awarding of these contracts
After a first trial in 2005, Shabir Shaik, the former financial adviser to Jacob Zuma, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for having paid illicit sums to the former president and having negotiated bribes with the French company.
One of the main prosecution witnesses is a lawyer who worked for Thales for six years. His testimony on Pierre Moynot, then responsible for the local Thales subsidiary, is explosive: “I was only an observer at the time, when Mr. Moynot gave all this money, not only to Mr. Zuma, but he also paid the former Minister of Justice Penuell Maduna to ensure his services “, explains Me Ajay Sooklal to our correspondents in South Africa Caroline Dumay, Stefan Carstens and Sam Bradpiece. “It happened in a hotel in London. The sum was 50,000 euros.”
Contacted by France 24, the ANC party of Jacob Zuma, founded by Nelson Mandela and which plays on its credibility, did not comment. Thales, for its part, said it was confident and strongly denied the accusations against its South African subsidiary.
Towards a new postponement ?
But stainless Jacob Zuma, forced to resign in 2018 after a spate of other corruption scandals, is doing all he can to delay his judgment.
Right a month before his trial, all his lawyers, like one man, gave up at the end of April to represent him. Without any explanation. Umpteenth maneuver? Nothing has filtered out on their reasons but the 79-year-old Zulu, cunning and charismatic, could reasonably ask for a further postponement, time to reorganize his defense.
“It is almost certain that he – or his new team of lawyers if he has one – will ask for a postponement and that this postponement will be granted,” said lawyer James Grant, questioned by AFP on the different possible legal scenarios.
In recent months, Jacob Zuma has defied the authorities from his residence in Nkandla in the Zulu countryside, retyped at the taxpayer’s expense for 20 million euros during his presidency under the pretext of “security” work.
In 2018, before the end of his second term as president, he fell out of favor, swept away by a terrible spiral of scandals, double play and abuse of power. But by having built a network of faithful, among parliamentarians and political leaders.
“He holds lots of secrets”
During the days of the ANC in exile under apartheid, “JZ” was the feared chief of intelligence, dealing with traitors and informants. He also spent ten years on Robben Island as a political prisoner. “He holds lots of secrets that he threatened to reveal,” argues political scientist Asanda Ngoasheng.
Since, he constantly plays cat and mouse with the anti-corruption commission, which he set up in early 2018 just before his fall, to try to convince that he had nothing to be ashamed of.
The growing tension linked to repeated refusals of Jacob Zuma to testify led to an impasse, although he was cited directly or indirectly by about thirty witnesses before this advisory commission, whose conclusions could however be transmitted to the prosecution.
Zuma is familiar with the courts. In 2006, he was acquitted of the rape of the HIV-positive daughter of one of his former comrades in the struggle. He scandalized the country by claiming to have “taken a shower” after unprotected sex, thinking that he would avoid any HIV infection.