Former SA President, Jacob Zuma, appeared in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 17 May 2021 on charges of corruption, bribery and money laundering relating to the Arms Deal dating back to the late 1990s. He appeared together with French arms company, Thales.The matter was previously postponed on 23 February 2021 to 17 May 2021 for the trial to commence. Upon his appearance, his erstwhile lawyers, Eric Mabuza, withdrew as Mr Zuma’s legal representatives and were substituted by Adv Thabani Masuku and Mr Roux appeared for Thales. The Court found that the withdrawal of Eric Mabuza would not prejudice the commencement of the trial. The matter was postponed to 26 May 2021 as Zuma’s new legal representatives intended to apply that the lead State prosecutor in the matter, Billy Downer, be removed from the matter as Zuma believes that he will never get a fair trial if Billy Downer is prosecuting his matter. Billy Downer is the same prosecutor who handled Shabir Sheik’s matter nearly 15 years ago.
The former president’s application is very strange to say the least. If it is successful, it will be for the first time that an accused person successfully applies that a prosecutor be removed from his case. Applications for recusal are usually directed at presiding officers and not at public prosecutors as the appointment of public prosecutors to specific cases is the sole prerogative of the National Director of Public Prosecutions and not that of the accused. It seems that the reasons that Zuma gives for his objection to Billy Downer prosecuting his case is that there are international spy agencies involved in his prosecution. It remains to be heard during the next appearance on how these spy agencies will affect Mr Zuma’s right to a fair hearing.
Mr Zuma was accompanied by various supporters by including suspended secretary general, Mr Ace Magashule, MKMVA spokesperson, Carl Niehaus, KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala and others. The ANC has previously warned its members not to support members accused of criminal cases in their official capacities as members of the ANC.
Minister of Public Works, Patricia de Lille, was called as the first state witness in the matter, but had to be excused from court due to the application by Mr Zuma’s legal representative for the recusal of the lead prosecutor in the matter. eNCA was granted leave to broadcast the trial. Judge Piet Koen is presiding over the trial.