POLITICS

The Zuma Charges -- This Is How It All Comes Together

Could Msholozi be out of get-out-of-jail-free cards?

15/09/2017 06:03 SAST | Updated 15/09/2017 08:23 SAST
Rogan Ward / Reuters
Jacob Zuma waits in the dock at Pietermaritzburg High Court February 4, 2009.

ANALYSIS

It has been almost 10 years to the day that the National Prosecuting Authority brought the notorious '783' case against President Jacob Zuma -- and now the head of state is facing the long barrel of that gun again.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Appeal reserved judgment in the president's application for leave to appeal 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering levelled against him.

If judge Mahomed Navsa and his team rule against the president, the charges that have haunted Zuma's tenure will surface once again.

This is the tale of the 783
It all started back in 2003 when the then National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, made an announcement that there was a prima facie case of corruption against Zuma. Ngcuka declined to prosecute the then deputy president on the grounds that the state did not have a winnable case.

But his words at the time were telling.

In a statement, Ngcuka said the decision was reached after what he considered to be one of the most difficult investigations that the NPA and "our young democracy" had witnessed.

"The investigating team recommended that we institute a criminal prosecution against [Zuma]... while there is a prima facie case of corruption against [Zuma], our prospects of success are not strong enough," he said.

"We cannot continue with a prolonged investigation that cast a shadow over [Zuma], whilst we are not assured of the outcome."

If only Ngcuka knew just how dark that shadow would become.

Zuma is officially charged
Two years later, the NPA, then headed by Ngcuka's successor, Advocate Vusi Pikoli, officially charged Zuma.

Now the head of state is facing the long barrel of that gun again.

This followed the conviction of Zuma's close friend and financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, on two charges of corruption, and for soliciting a bribe for Zuma from a French arms deal beneficiary, Thales, in exchange for protection from possible investigation into the arms deal. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Zuma previously faced only two charges of corruption based on the indictment in the Shaik trial.

But 14 charges were then added including racketeering, fraud and money laundering.

Zuma's charge sheet disclosed that between 1995 and 2005, Zuma or his family allegedly received 783 payments totalling more than R4 million from Shaik or his companies.

It was alleged that Zuma personally met and interceded with Shaik's prospective business partners, most notably, Thales, to try to secure Shaik's interests.

The essence of the racketeering charge was that Zuma, Thales and Shaik effectively formed an enterprise called Nkobi Investments that existed because of their alleged corrupt deeds.

Zuma's charge sheet disclosed that between 1995 and 2005, Zuma or his family allegedly received 783 payments totalling more than R4 million from Shaik or his companies.

The rest of the charges relate to Zuma's alleged non-declaration of benefits to Parliament and Cabinet and alleged tax evasion for not revealing his payments from Shaik to the South African Revenue Service.

Yet another twist
However, in 2006, the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed Zuma's corruption case because the prosecution team was not ready to bring a case. Zuma was subsequently charged again in 2007, shortly after he was elected as president of the ANC at its Polokwane Conference.

Eventually, after a series of challenges by Zuma's legal team, the case was to be heard in August 2009.

But there was another twist.

Before Zuma could head to court, then acting NPA boss, Mokotedi Mpshe, announced charges would be dropped because of alleged political interference leading to an abuse of the legal process.

Read: Zuma Charges -- Mokotedi Mpshe's Agonising Choice

Mpshe's declaration resulted from transcripts of telephone calls -- aka the Spy Tapes -- between former Scorpions boss, Leonard McCarthy, and Ngucka. Mpshe said the transcripts revealed that McCarthy and Ngucka colluded to change the timing of the announcement of the reinstitution of charges against Zuma to damage his presidential campaign.

It has been a long road and Zuma is almost out of tricks.

Years later, in 2016, the North Gauteng High Court found the decision to drop charges against the president was illegal and irrational. The court set the decision aside, effectively reinstating the charges.

Now the president is seeking leave to appeal.

It has been a long road and Zuma is almost out of tricks. If his appeal is set aside, the NPA will be obliged to proceed with prosecution. If not, Zuma will not be prosecuted at all.

Are we finally seeing the culmination of a decade-long legal enterprise to get Zuma to face his charges, or does he still have some tricks up his sleeve? One thing is for certain, either way, South Africa is probably in for more legal drama.