November 5, 2019 / 7:42 AM / 13 days ago

French arms firm Thales to appeal Zuma corruption charge ruling in South Africa's top court

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - French defense firm Thales said on Tuesday it would ask South Africa’s highest court for permission to appeal an October ruling dismissing its request to have charges that it bribed former President Jacob Zuma permanently dropped.

FILE PHOTO: Former South African President Jacob Zuma appears in court where he faces charges that include fraud, racketeering and money laundering in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, October 15, 2019. Michele Spatari /Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Thales is accused of agreeing to pay Zuma 500,000 rand ($34,000) annually for protection from an investigation into a $2 billion arms deal in 1999.

The charges against Thales and Zuma were originally filed a decade ago but then set aside by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), paving the way for Zuma to successfully run for president in 2009.

The charges were reinstated in March 2018 by the NPA following appeals and lobbying by opposition parties and local anti-corruption groups.

In mid-October the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed an application by Zuma and Thales for a permanent stay of prosecution and set a provisional trial date of Feb. 4, 2020.

“Thales confirms that on 1 November 2019 it applied to the Constitutional Court of South Africa for leave to appeal the High Court’s decision which dismissed its challenge to the lawfulness of the decision to reinstate charges against it,” the French firm said in a statement.

Zuma has also said he will appeal the decision, meaning the trial would likely begin only in late in 2020.

Thales’ local public relations firm did not immediately reply to an email sent by Reuters seeking details of the argument it would make in the appeal application.

Thales, known as Thompson-CSF in 1999, has consistently argued that it has no knowledge of any transgressions having been committed by any of its employees in relation to the awarding of the contracts.

($1 = 14.7294 rand)

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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