- Zuma is accused of having received 4 million rands— €249,000— in bribes from French group Thales.
- Zuma was forced to resign the presidency by the ANC in 2018 on separate corruption allegations.
- Last Thursday, the United States announced sanctions against three friends of the former president, the Gupta brothers.
Former South African President Jacob Zuma, splashed in scandals that led to his forced resignation in 2018, will be tried for bribery in relation to a 20-year old arms deal involving the French group Thales. Zuma, who was in power from 2009 to 2018, is being prosecuted for corruption, money laundering and racketeering linked to a huge armament contract worth 30 billion rands (or about $2.5 billion at the current rate) awarded in 1999.
At the time of the alleged facts, he was provincial minister, and then vice-president of South Africa. He is accused of having received 4 million rands— €249,000 at the current price— in bribes from Thales. Zuma and the electronics and defense company, which is also being prosecuted, have always denied the allegations.
After many twists and turns in the last fifteen years, the court on Friday opened the way for a trial of the former president, after unanimously rejecting Zuma’s request to dismiss the charges against him. “The case is scheduled” for Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the prosecution, Natasha Kara confirmed Monday to AFP, in the High Court of Pietermaritzburg. Zuma and Thales can still appeal to the opening of the trial.
Tuesday’s hearing “could be very brief,” because “it is likely” that Zuma will “appeal” the court’s decision to deny the abandonment of prosecutions, said a judicial source in Pietermaritzburg. The 77-year-old former president claims to be a victim of a “witch hunt.”
Long considered unachievable, he was forced to resign in February 2018 after a long stand-off with his own party, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), and his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa. He is now on the dock, if found guilty, he faces a prison sentence.
According to the indictment, the Thales group paid Zuma through a businessman, presented as his “financial advisor,” Schabir Shaik. In a fax sent in 2000 to his Parisian hierarchy, a local leader of Thales wrote in black and white that the group has committed to pay R500,000 per year to Mr. Zuma to ensure the “protection” of the group, and “the permanent support of JZ (Jacob Zuma) for future projects.”
On the basis of these elements, Schabir Shaik was found guilty of corruption in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Questioned in 2003 in this case, Zuma has long escaped prosecution. The public prosecutor’s office twice prosecuted and annulled it, according to decisions that were still very controversial.
The last cancellation, a few days before his election to the highest office in 2009, seemed to have finally buried the case. It was without counting on the obstinacy of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which made it possible to resurrect it.
This trial has the potential to splash the ANC, of the late President Nelson Mandela. “With this arms contract deal, the ANC is in a serious quagmire,” said political analyst Xolani Dube. The case goes back some twenty years, but former President Zuma is also suspected of corruption in other, much more recent cases during his presidency.
He must again be heard by an anti-corruption commission, which is supposed to shed light on the multiple accusations of corruption at the top of the state during his reign. Last Thursday, the United States announced sanctions against three friends of the former president, the Gupta brothers, members of powerful and sultry siblings of businessmen in the heart of several scandals.