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NPA push for Zuma's graft trial

Zuma, 77, is accused of taking bribes from French defence company Thales during his time as a provincial economy minister and later as deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1990s.

Former President Jacob Zuma at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 23 May 2019. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Thursday pushed for ex-president Jacob Zuma to face a corruption trial for a case dating back to the 1990s, saying if he did not it would appear he received special treatment.

Zuma, 77, is accused of taking bribes from French defence company Thales during his time as a provincial economy minister and later as deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1990s.

He has been charged with 16 counts of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a multi-million-dollar arms deal dating back to before he took office in 2009.

The charges were first brought against Zuma in 2005. They were dropped by prosecutors in 2009, shortly before he became president, and reinstated in 2016.

Both Zuma and Thales deny any wrongdoing and have applied to the court for a permanent stay of prosecution.

"There is a high risk that if Mr Zuma escapes prosecution, that he will be seen to have received special treatment because he is an important and a powerful man," said state lawyer Wim Trengrove.

"It is important too, for Mr Zuma to be seen to be treated the same as others would have been too."

The prosecution dismissed as "unfounded" Zuma's allegations that he was victim of a "witch hunt".

"There is not a shred of evidence the decision to prosecute Mr. Zuma was in anyway politically motivated," said Trengrove. "There is a very compelling case against him".

Thales has said it cannot get a fair trial given the "very long delay of this procedure -- through no fault of Thales at all".

But another state lawyer Andrew Breitenbach said it was Thales and not the prosecution that "has been responsible for the delays" from 2004 onwards.

"It is absolutely clear that Thales escaped prosecution by dishonest trickery," added Trengrove.

The high court in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg will have the final say on whether or not charges against Zuma and Thales will be dropped.

Zuma was forced to resign by the ruling ANC party last year.

His successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who held onto power when the ANC won national elections this month, has vowed to root out corruption in government and the party.

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