Zuma D-day looms: ‘There is a good chance of successful prosecution’
No comment, says Schabir Shaik when asked if he would be a state witness
Former president Jacob Zuma may soon get his day in court – but he may also get more than what he wished for.
Legal experts agree the corruption case against Zuma, centred around allegations of bribery related to the government’s multi-million-rand arms deal in the late 1990s, is solid.
National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams is expected to announce his decision soon on whether Zuma will be prosecuted.
“Bearing in mind that Schabir Shaik has already been successfully prosecuted [on the same evidence], there is probably a good chance of a successful prosecution,” said Phephelaphi Dube, the director for the Centre of Constitutional Rights.
“But on the other hand, we need to bear in mind the passage of time that would suggest that some the evidence may not be available,” Dube added
“The NPA itself would have reviewed all of this and they would have taken all of this under consideration – if they do decide to go ahead with the prosecution, it obviously means that the NPA thinks they have a strong case against the former president. That on its own is a very good indicator of the likelihood of Jacob Zuma being found guilty.
“There are very few reasons that would justify a decision not to prosecute.”On the strength of a forensic report by KPMG, Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik was found guilty of fraud in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years, while Zuma walked away unscathed.
Shaik was released on medical parole in March 2009, after serving just over two years of his 15-year sentence. He was convicted on two counts of corruption and one of fraud, relating to his facilitation of a bribe, allegedly by French arms company Thint, to Zuma.
Asked by Times Select on Thursday if he would turn state witness if the prosecution went ahead, Shaik curtly replied: “No comment”.
Ulrich Roux, of BDK Attorneys, said the NPA needed to move fast now.
“If he makes a decision to prosecute, the ball must get rolling. Abrahams will have to draft a summons to bring Zuma before the court (J175), and the minute that matter is on the court roll, there is no holding back. And they must proceed with leading evidence and attempting to prove their case,” Roux said.
“I think it will be a watershed moment when Jacob Zuma finally takes the stand in this matter. He has from the outset said he wants his day in court and if he is given his day he will prove his innocence. And hopefully that day is not too far into the future.”Advocate James Grant, a former associate professor of law at Wits, said the NPA and Abrahams were fighting a political battle.
“They, particularly the NDPP, are fighting a political battle at the moment. If he decides to prosecute, politically, he is going to be regarded as having made the decision because of the change in the weather. If he decides not to, he is going to be regarded as still captured. Either decision he makes will not be received well and it will not reinstate the respect of the public in the NPA as is necessary,” Grant said.
There should not be any further delays if Abrahams did decide to reinstate the charges.
“All that would be required is that a fresh indictment would have to be served, which could mirror the original indictment as previously formulated. Or it could be a new indictment altogether where the charges have been narrowed down.”
However, if Abrahams declines to prosecute, Grant believes Zuma will have a good chance of asking a court for a permanent stay of prosecution.So far, Zuma’s lawyers have applied the “Stalingrad approach”, challenging every possible technical point which has led to the matter being before the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal as opposition parties attempted to compel the NPA to prosecute as it dragged out for nearly 10 years.
On Wednesday, Abrahams told the parliament’s standing committee on public accounts he was in a position to announce his decision, but he would first be informing Zuma.
“As to the Zuma matter, yes it is correct, I’m in a position to announce my decision in respect of whether the prosecution against the former president should proceed or not. Regrettably, I can’t give this committee a clue; I must first inform Mr Zuma about what my decision is,” he said.Abrahams late last month received recommendations from a leading team of prosecutors but was forced to delay his decision after Casac launched a Constitutional Court bid to declare his appointment irregular, which on Wednesday failed.
Advocate Billy Downer, who is part of the Zuma prosecution team, has previously described the case against Zuma as “watertight”.