Zuma smells an ‘obsession’, prosecutor smells a lawsuit
Former president accused of defamation after saying in a court application that state prosecutor hates him
The lead prosecutor in Jacob Zuma’s corruption case is suing the former president for saying the lawyer was driven by his own hatred of Zuma and blinded by an obsession to see him behind bars.
Advocate Billy Downer has asked the Pietermaritzburg High Court to strike more than a dozen “scandalous and vexatious” and “untrue and unwarranted” statements Zuma made in his application for a permanent stay of prosecution.
The statements were made in Zuma’s replying affidavit after the National Prosecuting Authority responded to his application for a stay of prosecution.
“First, without any substantiation, Zuma alleges that I hate him … I am blinded by an obsession with his conviction … I seem nostalgic about the manner in which apartheid prosecutions authorities deal with those they considered guilty or undesirable … and persons within the NPA may have apartheid withdrawal symptoms,” Downer states.
He says Zuma’s claims prejudiced the state, are completely untrue and defamatory, and should be removed from the court papers.
The “state is prejudiced by [these] parts of Zuma’s replying affidavit … because they amount to reckless and odious posturing, apparently aimed at condemning the public’s perception of the integrity of the NPA and particularly the person responsible for conducting the prosecution in court (i.e. me)”.
Downer also wants the court to order that Zuma – whose state funding for his legal costs have already been cut – to pay the punitive legal costs of this application.
In Zuma’s application for a permanent stay of prosecution – his last bid to halt his pending trial for racketeering, corruption, fraud and tax evasion – he also accuses Downer of “astounding duplicity” and “an aversion to the truth”.
Downer was the prosecutor who secured a corruption and fraud conviction against Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik. He was convicted of facilitating a R500,000 a year bribe for Zuma from French arms company Thales, in exchange for Zuma’s “political protection” from any potential investigation into the multibillion-rand arms deal.
Downer was an outspoken critic of a 2003 decision by then prosecutions head Bulelani Ngcuka to not charge Zuma with Shaik, as well as the 2009 decision by former acting NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe to drop the case against Zuma, because of alleged “political meddling”.
Zuma has now accused Downer of trying to “gloss over” the contradictions in the NPA’s stance on his prosecution, and whether it should proceed.
“I believe he did this to magnify his deeply held belief that I should be prosecuted and convicted at all costs.
“It is difficult to appreciate how a prosecutor of his experience should ignore that my rights have grossly been violated by the NPA regardless of his obvious aversion towards me.”
Downer has also asked the high court to strike out Zuma’s claims that former president Thabo Mbeki and former justice minister Penuell Maduna tried to persuade him to exit politics at the time of the Shaik prosecution. Zuma has also claimed Ngcuka told him in 2003 that, if Shaik pleaded guilty, there would be no case against him.
Should the court not strike this evidence, Downer wants an opportunity for the state to address these claims under oath.
Zuma last appeared in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in November 2018, and the judge ordered that the permanent stay of prosecution arguments be heard on May 20. Zuma filed that application, to which the NPA responded, and he then filed a replying affidavit.
Downer’s application will be dealt with as part of the permanent stay application when the matter resumes next month.