15/02/2018 12:43 SAST | Updated 15/02/2018 12:43 SAST

Does Zuma's Resignation Mean He Will Dodge Prosecution?

Probably not. And a legal expert says he believes there may even be a strong case of treason against the former president.

Former president Jacob Zuma waiting in the dock at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in 2009.
Rogan Ward / Reuters
Former president Jacob Zuma waiting in the dock at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in 2009.

Although Jacob Zuma has resigned as head of state, he stares down the the barrel of a loaded gun when it comes to 18 counts of fraud, racketeering, money laundering and corruption.

But this time round, without his position in office, he may not have the ability to exert influence over the National Prosecuting Authority and its boss, Shaun Abrahams. Zuma then, could have his day in court – and soon.

Legal expert James Grant said the 783 counts of white-collar crime facing Zuma were withheld under his term as president.

READ: Here's Why Shaun Abrahams Is Unfit To Hold Office.

"It was his reign [sic] that was holding them back and keeping him out of court. His inability to exert influence on the NPA will now speed up the process. The charges should be reinstated, with Abrahams having nothing to do with the decision," Grant said.

Abrahams has given a special team of prosecutors until February 23 to provide him with recommendations on whether or not Zuma should be prosecuted. It came after Zuma and opposition parties made new representations to the NPA on the matter.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Shaun Abrahams gestures as he announces the dropping of fraud charges on Monday against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, the latest twist in a police investigation that has rattled financial markets in the continent's most industrialised economy, during a media briefing, in Pretoria, South Africa, October 31,2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

After Abrahams receives the recommendations, he will advise on a date by which he will announce his decision.

But the High Court last year found that Abrahams' appointment was unlawful and void. The court said ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa should appoint a new NPA head in his place within 60 days, but Abrahams appealed the ruling.

READ: What Now For Shaun Abrahams?

"The appeal is the only reason why Abrahams continues as NPA head. It is by this virtue that he has launched the appeal. If he loses that appeal, it will throw whatever decision he makes into question. He has also lost credibility, so no matter what decision he makes, there is room for question marks," Grant said.

Abrahams has on numerous occasions been accused of shielding Zuma and his associates from prosecution.

"Whether or not to reinstitute the charges against Zuma is a critical decision, and I don't see how Abrahams can make it – firstly by virtue of the High Court ruling and secondly, because he has effectively shown that he is incompetent," Grant said.

"Abrahams may be Zuma's last line of defence, but I don't think he would be able to resist a strong political will for justice and the straightforward legal case that is presented to him."

Grant said he believes there may even be a case for charging Zuma with treason.

"Until now, I have dismissed all talks of treason charges as opposition-party political rambling. But it can be argued here that what has happened in state capture is more damaging than corruption. I think when you look at the definition of treason and compare it to corruption where the state has been sold off, it becomes difficult to differentiate between the selling of the state for profit, and marching armed insurgents into Parliament," he said.

"If there is no difference there, and the allegations against Zuma are true, there may actually be a case. It is the same goal of taking over the state, but it was a different way of getting there. Because he and the Gupta family didn't use violence, it went under the radar. Different strategy, same end goal."

AfriForum announced on Thursday that if the NPA fails to prosecute Zuma, its private prosecution unit, under the direction of advocate Gerrie Nel, will put in motion a process of private prosecution.