I stand by my judgment – judge who threw out Zuma corruption case

President Jacob Zuma
President Jacob Zuma

The judge whose controversial findings in President Jacob Zuma’s corruption case paved the way for him to become president of the country, has said that he “stands by his judgment”.

Judge Chris Nicholson, who retired five years ago, commented on former president Thabo Mbeki’s latest newsletter in which Mbeki slammed Nicholson’s findings on “political meddling”.

In the newsletter published on Facebook yesterday, Mbeki described the judgment as “incomprehensible”.

Read the newsletter here.

Nicholson in 2008 presided over the corruption case against Zuma and set aside the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to prosecute him. The charges included money laundering, corruption and fraud. Nicholson’s ruling was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal. 

Mbeki slammed Nicholson for concluding that there was political meddling on the part of Mbeki and others. He claimed Nicholson in his judgment gave “a judicial stamp of approval” of these allegations against him.

Mbeki wrote: “Judge Nicholson gave a judicial stamp of approval to an allegation that some had sustained for some time that I and others in government were part of a ‘political conspiracy’ which had interfered with the [National Prosecuting Authority] falsely to charge Jacob Zuma, an allegation which even the ANC [national executive committee] as a whole had rejected.”

The former president also said an explanation was needed for why Nicholson acted the way he did on the issue of so-called “political interference”.

“This was especially puzzling given that Nicholson was an experienced judge with 13 years of experience by 2008, having been appointed to the bench in 1995.”

Yesterday, Nicholson said that judges may, in their rulings, say what they wanted to say.

“I stand by my judgment. I said what I believed was right.”

In his judgment, Nicholson said: “The timing of the indictment by Mr [Mokotedi] Mpshe [the former director of public prosecutions] on December 28 2007, after the president [Mbeki] suffered a political defeat at Polokwane was most unfortunate. This factor, together with the suspension of Mr [Vusi] Pikoli [former head of the prosecuting authority], who was supposed to be independent and immune from executive interference, persuade me that the most plausible inference is that the baleful political influence was continuing.”

Mbeki singled out Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, among others, as one of those who later apologised for being “misled” by allegations of a political conspiracy against Zuma.

When approached for comment, Malema said: “Zuma used us big time.We were more than convinced that there was a political conspiracy against him. After the Nicholson judgment I had a discussion with Zuma where he said he was not ready to work with Mbeki as he believed Mbeki was involved.”

At that time, Zuma was president of the ANC and Mbeki was president of South Africa.

According to Malema, Zuma led them to believe that “there was a political conspiracy against him”.

ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said that the ANC wouldn’t comment on these issues.

Malema who, as a member of Parliament serves on the Judicial Service Commission, said he wanted to put the Nicholson issue on the agenda.

“There must be some kind of accountability. What happens to a judge who nearly collapses a country by basing his judgment on nonexistent evidence and media articles – a judge who makes political judgments with far-reaching consequences?”

The South African Communist Party labelled Mbeki’s latest newsletter as “Mbeki’s continued factional obsession involving provocative attacks on the party’s General Secretary, Comrade Blade Nzimande and other ANC leaders.”

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