Former president Jacob Zuma’s legal team is accusing Advocate Billy Downer, the lead prosecutor in his arms deal corruption trial, of going behind the defence’s back and discussing a trial date and the trial’s duration with KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie.
The leaked email was shared on Twitter by Zuma’s daughter Duduzile Zuma. His new attorney Eric Mabuza expresses their client’s concerns to Jappie and Deputy Judge President Mjabuliseni Madondo.
“We act on behalf of former president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, accused number one, our client, in this matter. Ordinarily, we should address this correspondence only to the honourable Deputy Judge President Madondo. As it will become clearer below, we have addressed it to the honourable Judge President Jappie.
“We refer to the email dated May 21 which was addressed to the honourable Jappie by the state’s advocate Downer SC. The email was allegedly sent ‘pursuant to your request to be informed of the expected duration of the trial and a proposed trial date’.
“For the record, we were not copied in this correspondence and we are not privy to the reasons, justification and precise nature of the ex parte discussion between the honourable judge president and advocate Downer SC and whether there were other discussions of this nature,” reads the email by Mabuza.
Zuma’s legal team adds that this is not the first time there has been correspondence between the state and Jappie that excluded the defence.
“We also refer to the email dated May 20 which advocate Downer SC sent to the office of the honourable deputy judge president, in which we were also not copied, wherein he stated, inter alia, the following:
‘[P]lease will you inform the honourable Deputy Judge President Madondo that the Judge President Jappie had directed the same questions to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) regarding the expected duration of the trial and a trial date’. For ease of reference, we attach a copy of the correspondence which advocate Downer SC sent to the office of the honourable Deputy Judge President [Madondo], marked ‘A’,” reads the email.
Mabuza places on record Zuma’s objections because his legal team has not been made privy to “the precise questions which the honourable judge president allegedly directed to the state or whether such questions were in writing or oral”.
“We place it on record again that we have not had any ex parte oral or written communication with Jappie or Madondo regarding this matter. We would consider it inappropriate to do so unless it was with the consent and/or knowledge of all the parties involved as to the exact issues discussed and the reasons thereof.
“It appears from the correspondence that there has been what we consider ex parte communications between the state and the honourable judge president without our knowledge or involvement or consent. This is despite the fact that the enquiries to all the parties had initially come from the honourable Madondo,” reads the email.
Zuma’s legal team also indicated they were shocked that the state was approaching the judge president directly even though both parties were informed that Madondo “was the only designated judicial officer with whom the parties should communicate in respect of the management of this case”.
These concerns come after the prosecution allegedly approached Jappie directly requesting a postponement of the trial until February next year.
Among the reasons advanced by the state in another leaked email, are that the state wanted to amend the charge sheet. The argument was that multinational auditing firm, KPMG, omitted some payments that were allegedly made to Zuma by convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik and his Nkobi group.
The leaked confidential letter from Downer to Jappie requested a postponement from the set June 23 trial date to next February.
“It is correct, as you suspected, that the state will apply that the indictment is amended to include a number of payments from the Shaik/Nkobi group to Zuma that FTI discovered during their review of the old KPMG report and the production of the new report that was handed to the defence last year.
The amendment essentially entails the replacement of the schedule to the indictment to include the new figures,” reads the email.
The state, however, makes it clear in the email that Zuma and his legal team may be opposed to yet another delay in the case.
Downer said the defence may not be willing to have the case delayed “and want it to be heard from October”.
He added that this was communicated to the prosecution by Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, Zuma’s lead lawyer.
“Sikhakhane informs me that Zuma will in all probability not move from his position that a trial date later than October will not suit him. [Barry] Roux for Thales would find suitable either an October this year or February next year date,” he said.
The allegation that there have been ex parte communications between Downer and Jappie has been shot down by Nathi Mncube, the spokesperson of the Office of the Chief Justice.
He said Jappie has not seen any letter from Downer or the NPA as the courts have been closed for decontamination and will only open on Tuesday.
The latest complaint about the email correspondence also featured on the latest episode of “Zooming with the Zumas” last week.
Zuma questioned the integrity of the judiciary and some judges. “Some people in the judiciary have unfortunately pronounced that Zuma will never win a case in my court. It is a sad thing that in a free country that you fought for, you must feel you are in the same situation as it were during apartheid.
“If again the judiciary [members] in this country do not like Zuma, they want to put Zuma in jail, I will go there and serve and my conscience will be free, knowing very well I never did anything wrong,” complained Zuma in the broadcast.
Zuma, who was charged for alleged corruption linked to South Africa’s multi-billion rand arms deal in April 2018, is expected back in court on June 23 after Madondo granted an order for the trial to be postponed in absentia on May 6.