South Africa's scandal-plagued Zuma to face ANC integrity panel

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma will be questioned next week by the African National Congress’ (ANC) integrity commission following persistent allegations of corruption and poor election results, the party said on Friday.

South African President Jacob Zuma speaks at the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Zuma’s appearance before the panel could deepen divides within the ANC as it gears up for a national conference next year when the 74-year-old leader is expected to stand down as party leader.

Several senior members of the ANC have called for Zuma to resign in recent months after scandals rattled markets in Africa’s most industrialized economy and cost the party votes.

A constitutionally mandated anti-graft watchdog this month called for a judge to investigate allegations Zuma provided special favors for wealthy friends and allowed them to choose ministerial appointments. Zuma denies any wrongdoing.

The president’s office said in a statement that Zuma had received legal advice to challenge the watchdog’s report in court and would do so at a later date.

In the report, the Public Protector watchdog also called for a judicial inquiry to be set up to probe the allegations against him. Zuma told parliament on Wednesday the watchdog had no right to call for a judicial inquiry, describing its report as unfair.

The report, released on Nov. 2, focused on allegations that businessman brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta had influenced the appointment of ministers. The Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.

Zuma’s meeting with the ANC commission is expected to be held on Dec. 3 behind closed doors.

Members of the ANC have been removed from their posts as a result of the commission’s recommendation.

“He will be having a meeting with the IC,” ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told Reuters, referring to the commission.

He did not say what would be discussed at the meeting.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper reported on Friday that the commission, headed by anti-apartheid stalwart Andrew Mlangeni, would question Zuma over a slew of corruption scandals and the party’s worst local election results in August.

In March, the Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to repay some of $16 million of state funds inappropriately spent on enhancing his country home. He has since paid back more than $500,000 as required by the court.

The ANC formed the commission in 2013 to help protect its image and take “urgent action” to deal with members of the party who face allegations of improper conduct.

Reporting by Joe Brock and Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by James Macharia and Hugh Lawson