New legal team, old strategies for Zuma?

2018-07-28 09:00

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Former president Jacob Zuma showed up at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday with a brand new defence team who made much of the fact that, instead of the Stalingrad approach his previous team has been accused of employing, they're heading straight for Moscow. 

The new team was hired earlier this month after Zuma's longstanding senior counsel, advocate Kemp J Kemp, retired from the Bar and the services of Zuma's attorney of more than ten years, Michael Hulley, were terminated.

Zuma's new senior counsel, advocate Michael Hellens, told Judge President Mjabuliseni Madondo that they plan on getting straight to business, and have already consulted with Kemp, transferred all the necessary documents they wikk need from his office to theirs and have started working through them.

They now intend to bring a "formidable application" for a permanent stay of prosecution, that the State would have to answer.

But for this to happen, they need the very thing that earned their predecessors the "Stalingrad" label: time. The defence asked for three and a half months to prepare the application, which Judge Madondo granted.

"They're saying they're not following a Stalingrad strategy, but this is clearly another part of the strategy to avoid Zuma having his day in court," Lawson Naidoo, from the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), said.

"An application for a permanent stay of prosecution is an absolute last resort for a defence team. Public policy, by which the National Prosecuting Authority is bound, dictates that if there is prima facie evidence for a case to be brought, the court should make the ultimate decision. Public policy therefore now demands that the trial gets underway."

According to Hellens, their application will be based on, among other things, "significant pre-trial irregularities", including the assertion that Zuma's phone was tapped and that he was spied on by the now disbanded criminal investigations unit, the Scorpions.

'Political conspiracy thesis was rejected'

The infamous Browse Mole report, which was based on fabricated intelligence that was planted to discredit Zuma, and ultimately led to the disbandment of the Scorpions, will form part of their argument.

But this is also not a new argument. 

In 2017, Kemp argued, in the "spy tapes" case in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), that Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy's politically motivated manipulation went back to at least 2001, when McCarthy presided over the Browse Mole investigation into Zuma.

In his argument as to why the NPA was correct to withdraw charges against Zuma, Kemp argued that the Browse Mole investigation would therefore in itself have been enough for Zuma’s team to get a stay of prosecution.

The SCA did not buy this. The Mail&Guardian reported Justice Azhar Cachalia saying: "The whole political conspiracy thesis was rejected by this court in 2009. Which irons are you keeping hot in the fire now?"

With the contents of the Browse Mole report being in the public domain since 2010, this is most likely why prosecutor Billy Downer said he doesn't expect any arguments that haven't yet been traversed in previous cases in the defence's application for a permanent stay of prosecution.

Questions also still linger about how Zuma's available funding will influence his continued use of counsel. The Presidency earlier confirmed it will only pay for one senior counsel and two junior counsel, pending the outcome of court applications by the DA and EFF asking that the state to halt funding for Zuma's court case.

But Hellens made it clear that funding will not determine the outcome of the case, saying: "There will not be funding issues with this team. You can rest assured that this team is here to stay."

Read more on:    zuma corruption trial  |  jacob zuma

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