S.Africa judge says prosecutors can appeal Zuma case
DURBAN, South Africa |
DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - A South African judge who threw out corruption charges against ANC leader Jacob Zuma granted prosecutors leave to appeal on Wednesday, dashing ruling party hopes the case against the presidential hopeful was closed.
Judge Chris Nicholson last month dismissed bribery, fraud and other charges against Zuma citing high-level "political meddling" in the case, but said on Wednesday the legal complexities meant there were grounds for appeal.
"I have no difficulty in granting leave on the basis that I believe there are reasonable prospects of success on appeal," Nicholson told the Durban High Court.
Nicholson's dismissal of the charges against Zuma had appeared to clear the way for him to become president after an election due next year.
While reopening the case could give ammunition to a new breakaway party which argues the ANC's handling of the graft case undermines the rule of law, it is unlikely to derail Zuma's political ambitions since a verdict would take months.
"There is no way that this case will stop Zuma from becoming president," Aubrey Matshiqi, senior associate at the Center for Policy Studies, said. "It's too early to tell whether the breakaway party's argument about the rule of law will fly with the majority of voters, but my feeling is it will not."
Zuma has said he will step down as African National Congress leader only if a court proves he is guilty. He has denied the charges, which he says are politically motivated.
Zuma loyalists have argued he was the victim of a political witch-hunt by former president Thabo Mbeki and a fight between the two men has deeply divided the ANC, the dominant force in South African politics since the end of white rule in 1994.
"We believe that our president (Zuma) has been a subject of a vindictive prosecution," the ANC said in a statement on Wednesday. "We want to reaffirm the ANC's unwavering support for Comrade Zuma as the face of the organization in the run-up to the 2009 elections and future president of the country."
Nicholson's September 12 ruling sparked the biggest political upheaval in South Africa since the end of apartheid.
Shortly afterwards, the ANC forced Thabo Mbeki's resignation and a group of dissidents loyal to the former president announced they would form a breakaway party.
Investors are worried that if Zuma wins next year's vote, he may bow to pressure from his leftist allies to steer Africa's biggest economy away from the pro-business policies championed by Mbeki's administration.
The rand fell when Nicholson threw out the case last month, even though Zuma has vowed continuity in economic policy.
Zuma was South Africa's deputy president for six years before he was sacked in 2005 by Mbeki after being implicated in a graft trial that saw his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, convicted on fraud and corruption charges.
He was acquitted of rape charges in May 2006.
Zuma is in the United States on his most high-profile visit since becoming head of the ANC. His lawyer declined to comment.
It was not clear when South Africa' Supreme Court of Appeal would hear the appeal, but prosecutors have indicated that they want it done quickly.
"It is in the interests of everyone that this case is finalized as soon as possible," Thali Thali, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, told South Africa's Talk Radio 702.
(Additional reporting by Gugulakhe Lourie and Paul Simao; Writing by Rebecca Harrison; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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