State says it has 217 witnesses ready to testify in Zuma-Thales corruption case

Zuma and Thales face corruption, money laundering and racketeering charges linked to the multibillion-rand arms deal.

FILE: Former South African President Jacob Zuma appears at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 23 June 2020. Picture: AFP.

DURBAN - The State said it had lined up 217 witnesses in the case involving former President Jacob Zuma and French arms company Thales.

Zuma and Thales face corruption, money laundering and racketeering charges linked to the multibillion-rand arms deal.

Zuma is facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a R30 billion purchase in 1999 of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment from five European arms companies.

He allegedly took bribes amounting to R4 million from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales at the time when he was deputy president.

Judge Nkosinathi Chili at the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday said the matter was certified as trial-ready.

READ: Zuma, Thales corruption trial to start on 17 May

Many years in the making, the Pietermaritzburg High Court has granted Zuma his wish of finally having his day in court and responding to allegations against him.

After years of legal wrangling, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) together with defence teams representing Zuma and arms company Thales have agreed to commence with a trial on 17 May.

The testimony of more than 200 witnesses is expected to be heard until 20 June in what is expected to be the biggest post-apartheid corruption trial in the country.

The NPA’s Natasha Kara said: “The matter was certified trial-ready. All parties have agreed that on the trial date, they will all be in court.”

Zuma was not present in court for the announcement.

The case was postponed last December, when Thales contested the racketeering charges linked to the arms deal.

But a court dismissed the challenge on 22 January, a decision that Thales said it would not contest.

READ: Court dismisses Thales' bid to challenge racketeering charges

Both the State prosecution and defence attorneys had asked the pre-trial court for extra time.

They cited among other things, COVID restrictions on international travel that could impede the availability of witnesses living abroad.

Zuma, 78, who was forced to step down in 2018 by the African National Congress after nine years in power, is separately accused of enabling runaway looting of state assets during his tenure.

Meanwhile, members of the MKMVA who have been camping outside Zuma’s homestead in Nkandla since early last week, say they will defend the former statesman with their bodies, and they will not allow him to be imprisoned.

Additional reporting by AFP.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device