thursday, 12 april of 2018

South Africa ex-President Jacob Zuma charged with corruption

South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma appeared in court Friday on corruption charges linked to a decades-old arms deal, kicking off what is expected to be a lengthy court battle that will test the resilience of the ruling African National Congress.

Mr. Zuma looked somber as he sat in the dock in the High Court in Durban, a coastal city​in the province where he was born​that remains a stronghold of support for a man who governed Africa’s most developed economy for nearly a decade.

Outside the courthouse, hundreds of his supporters rallied to his defense, some wearing yellow, black and green T-shirts bearing his image, in defiance of orders from ANC leaders not to don the party’s colors during the proceedings.

Friday’s hearing, which was called for Mr. Zuma to formally face charges, lasted just 20 minutes, after which the judge postponed the proceedings until June 8.

For many South Africans, Mr. Zuma’s long-delayed day in court is a crucial test of their country’s institutions and rule of law.

​The charges against Mr. Zuma—16 counts of corruption, fraud, money-laundering and racketeering—date back to 2005, when a former financial adviser was convicted of soliciting bribes on his behalf.

Prosecutors allege that the South African subsidiary of French arms company Thales SA arranged kickbacks for the ​former financial adviser. ​A Thales spokesman said the company is “ready and willing to continue cooperating with local authorities, giving them full support in this matter.”

The charges against Mr. Zuma were dropped for procedural reasons in April 2009, shortly before he was elected president, and reinstated last month, just weeks after the 75-year-old stepped down amid immense pressure from the ANC. His onetime deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, succeeded him as president.

Mr. Zuma’s opponents contend that the alleged corruption was symptomatic of broader malfeasance that would eventually turn the party and many South Africans against him.

His supporters say the charges were a means to sideline a politician whose rhetoric​on redistributing wealth from South Africa’s white minority to the black majority​was more radical than that of his predecessors—including Nelson Mandela—and the man who followed him,​Mr. Ramaphosa.

Mr. Zuma drove that point home when he addressed the crowd outside the courthouse Friday, branding the charges as politically motivated.

“That’s why they take me to court,” he told a cheering audience.” They want to close my mouth.”

Mr. Zuma has denied the charges and said Friday that he was “innocent until proven otherwise.”

Mr. Zuma’s lawyer said he would use the time until June to prepare a legal challenge against the​reinstatement of charges against his client, potentially delaying proceedings even further. The prosecutor on the case said the state will be ready to proceed to trial as soon as November.

By then, the former president’s legal troubles may have deepened. Last month, a commission headed by the deputy chief justice of South Africa’s Constitutional Court launched an investigation into whether Mr. Zuma allowed a controversial business family, the Guptas, to direct cabinet appointments and win billions of dollars in state contracts. The Guptas and Mr. Zuma have denied wrongdoing.

The opposition Democratic Alliance is also trying to secure a court order for Mr. Zuma to pay his own legal bills, which have so far been footed by government.

​For South Africa’s new president, Mr. Ramaphosa, a trial against Mr. Zuma could prove uncomfortable, testing​alliances in a divided party that risks losing its absolute majority in elections next year.

(Published by The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2018)

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