South Africa reinstates corruption charges against Jacob Zuma

South Africa’s chief prosecutor has said the former president Jacob Zuma will face prosecution on corruption charges that haunted much of his term in office.

Zuma, who was forced to resign by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) last month, will be prosecuted for corruption relating to a 30bn-rand (£1.8bn) arms deal in the late 1990s, Shaun Abrahams told a media conference on Friday.

“After consideration of the matter, I am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of successful prosecution of Mr Zuma on the charges listed in the indictment,” the chief prosecutor said. Zuma disputes all the allegations against him, he added.

Abrahams told a media conference that Zuma’s attempts to head off the charges that have been hanging over him for more than a decade had failed.

“I am of the view that a trial court would be the most appropriate forum for these issues to be ventilated and to be decided upon,” he said. 

Zuma will face 16 charges relating to 783 counts of alleged wrongdoing, the spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, Luvuyo Mfaku, said. The charges, which include racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud, carry lengthy custodial sentences on conviction.

“Zuma in addition disputes all the allegations against him and records that he lacked the requisite intention to commit any of the crimes listed in the indictment,” said Abrahams.

When he was deputy president, Zuma was linked to the arms deal through Schabir Shaikh, a former financial adviser who was jailed for corruption. The counts were filed but then dropped by the NPA shortly before Zuma successfully ran for president in 2009.

Zuma resigned as president last month embroiled in a storm of criticism and growing calls for him to step down after a series of corruption scandals while the country battled falling economic growth and record unemployment.

He was replaced by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has promised a robust campaign against corruption and also faces the tough task of rebuilding the popularity of the ruling ANC party since it took power at the end of white minority rule in 1994.

The former president could now appeal the ruling on a number of grounds and argue that the decision is illegitimate as Abrahams’ own position is uncertain.

The ANC responded to the reinstated charges against Zuma, saying it had confidence in the South African criminal justice system and was committed to the idea of “equality of all before the law”.

The party urged South Africans to allow prosecutors to do their work and cautioned that Zuma has the right to be “presumed innocent until and if proven guilty”.

In a separate case, South African authorities are seeking to arrest members of the Gupta business family, which allegedly used its connections to Zuma to influence cabinet appointments and win state contracts. Additionally, a judicial panel is preparing to view allegations of corruption at high-levels of the South African government during Zuma’s years in office.

In another scandal, South Africa’s top court ruled in 2016 that Zuma violated the constitution after an investigation of multimillion-dollar upgrades to his private home using state funds. He paid back some of the money.

South Africa’s main opposition party, which fought for years in court to get charges reinstated against Zuma, welcomed Abrahams’ decision.

“Now there must be no further delay in starting the trial,” said Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance. “The witnesses are ready, the evidence is strong, and Jacob Zuma must finally have his day in court.”