November 30, 2018 / 9:43 AM / 11 days ago

South Africa's Zuma wants arms deal corruption charges set aside

PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma wants corruption charges relating to a $2.2 billion arms deal to be permanently set aside, his lawyers said on Friday, when Zuma made his fourth court appearance since the charges were reinstated.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma speaks to supporters after his court appearance in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Zuma, who was ousted by the ruling party in February, faces 16 charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a deal to buy 30 billion rand of European military hardware for South Africa’s armed forces in the late 1990s.

The case is a rare example of an African leader being held to account for his actions. Zuma denies wrongdoing.

On Friday, judge Mjabuliseni Madondo adjourned the case to May 20, giving lawyers time to prepare for a debate on whether there should be a “permanent stay of prosecution”.

Zuma’s lawyer Mike Hellens said on Friday that state prosecutors had displayed a dismissive attitude towards Zuma.

The 76-year-old Zuma, wearing a black suit and red tie, was subdued in court. Several former cabinet ministers and African National Congress politicians travelled to Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal province, to support their former patron.

Addressing his supporters after the court appearance, Zuma said he believed the case violated his rights as a South African citizen and that there were “many unlawful things” that investigators did.

Zuma said more details would be presented in court.

“We filed papers telling the court that this case shouldn’t continue, it should be set aside once and for all,” Zuma told the cheering crowd.

Zuma, whose nine years in power were marked by economic stagnation and credit rating downgrades, has previously said he is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

The charges against him were originally filed a decade ago but then set aside by the National Prosecuting Authority shortly before he successfully ran for president in 2009.

After his election, his opponents fought a lengthy legal battle to have the charges reinstated, finally succeeding in 2016. Zuma countered with his own legal challenges.

The speed with which prosecutors have moved against Zuma is a sign of his waning influence since he was replaced as head of state by Cyril Ramaphosa, his former deputy.

Ramaphosa has made the fight against corruption a priority as he seeks to woo foreign investment and revamp an ailing economy.

Writing by Alexander Winning and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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