South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma, accused for taking bribes in a US$2.2 billion arms scandal 15 years ago, will finally have his day in court to dispel the allegations starting on 17 May, the country’s prosecuting authorities said on Tuesday.The announcement was made after the two parties met in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday to agree on setting the May starting date for the trial which has been outstanding for years.
Zuma faces racketeering charges, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering, and 12 counts of fraud related to 783 payments he allegedly received in connection with the controversial multi-billion-dollar arms deal.
According to National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson in KwaZulu Natal, Natasha Kara, the trial against Zuma would take place from 17 May to 20 June at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the province.
Zuma’s attorney Rudolph Baloyi said the former president was ready to stand trial amid legal woes that include his conflict with the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture which he has boycotted attending due to perceived bias against him.
With over 200 state witnesses lined up, the trial is expected to be lengthy as some of them are international witnesses that need to be present in court in spite of the coronavirus travel restrictions.
Zuma and Thales, the French arms dealer involved in the arms scandal, are the main co-accused in the trial in which the French company allegedly offered the then Deputy President of South Africa an annual bribe of US$70,000 to protect it from a probe into the controversial arms deal.
Zuma’s former financial adviser and friend, Schabir Shaik, allegedly facilitated the bribe for which he was arrested, tried and sentenced to years in prison.
However, after serving briefly for months Zuma granted Shaik amnesty on medical grounds, thereby freeing him from prison.