The supreme court of appeal opened the way for the reinstatement of bribery and corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma by upholding a lower court’s ruling that a decision by prosecutors to drop them was “irrational”.
Zuma’s lawyers conceded in a 14 September hearing that the National Prosecuting Authority’s reasoning in dropping the case in 2009 was wrong but argued that the president should be allowed to make representations before a new decision to proceed with 783 charges relating to an arms deal is taken.
The court on Friday didn’t immediately release its detailed judgment or indicate its response to a request by the opposition Democratic Alliance for it to order that the case should proceed immediately.
“The conclusion of the court below that the decision to terminate the prosecution was irrational cannot be faulted,” judge Eric Leach said in his ruling delivered in Bloemfontein. “It is difficult to understand why the present regime at the NPA considered that the decision to terminate prosecution could be defended.”
The court didn’t give guidance on the way forward and the NPA will consider the decision, its spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said in interview on the SABC.
The judgment comes just two months before the ruling party elects a new leader to replace Zuma, who’s has defeated several attempts to remove him from office amid a succession of scandals. A trial may also coincide with campaigning ahead of a national election in 2019 and follows a constitutional court ruling last year that the president violated his oath of office by refusing to repay taxpayer funds spent on his private home.
Reinstating the charges could undermine the campaign of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the president’s preferred successor for the leadership of the ANC in December, and possibly lead to him leaving the national presidency before his term ends in 2019, according to Susan Booysen, a political science professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance.
“He has got his proxy or proxies in the race and of course it would reflect on them, because it would put more pressure on them to continue to take clear stands against corruption at a presidential level,” she said by phone on Thursday.
Dlamini-Zuma, the former chairwoman of the African Union Commission and Zuma’s ex-wife, and deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are currently seen as the front-runners for the ANC’s top position.
The case was scrapped a month before Zuma, 75, became president in 2009 after recorded phone calls indicated the investigator’s actions may have been politically motivated. Zuma could still fight any decision to charge him in the constitutional court. — Reported by Amogelang Mbatha and Mike Cohen, (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP