Jacob Zuma to institute private prosecution against prosecutor Billy Downer

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  • Former president Jacob Zuma wants prosecutor advocate Billy Downer privately prosecuted for "unauthorised dissemination" of confidential information about his medical condition.
  • Zuma will appear in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg for his corruption trial on Monday.  
  • The Jacob Zuma Foundation says the former president will seek a postponement.

A day before the start of former president Jacob Zuma's corruption trial, his foundation announced his legal team will try to privately prosecute lead prosecutor Billy Downer.

"The instruction will now be put into operation in the next few days. [Former] president Zuma has decided that the only way to deal with Downer is through private prosecution, so wheels are being set in motion to see to it that a private prosecution happens," Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said at a media briefing in Sandton on Sunday.

Manyi added Zuma's legal team had also filed his reconsideration application at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein. This after the SCA denied him leave to appeal the dismissal of his special plea.

"All [former] president Zuma really wants is his day in court, in a fair trial and certainly not in a forum which is being rigged by the State in the manner described above, and all the previous unfair and incorrect decisions which will hopefully be corrected by the higher courts."

News24 previously reported Zuma's lawyers had written to prosecutions boss Shamila Batohi to demand she remove Downer as the lead prosecutor in the corruption case.

Ntanga Nkuhlu Inc Attorneys complained the prosecutor "has steadfastly failed and/or refused to step down despite numerous requests and demands for him to do so".

News24 also previously reported Zuma's lawyers claimed Downer was guilty of "unauthorised dissemination" of confidential information about his medical condition because the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) advocate, Andrew Breitenbach SC, agreed to a request from News24 to provide it with court papers filed by the defence and State.

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The documents in question were filed as part of a previous successful attempt by Zuma to seek the postponement of the case against him on medical grounds. It included a letter from the former president's military doctor.

Manyi said the NPA had been "dragging" its feet to investigate Downer and others for alleged breaches.

"We have witnessed a desperate frenzy of activity and panic from the NPA in its attempts to cleanse advocate Downer, by any means necessary, including adopting procedures and processes that should be frowned upon and found wanting by any fair justice system."

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Manyi confirmed Zuma would appear in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday, but said his legal team would apply for a postponement because "it is very clear that the conditions for a fair trial are non-existent".

"It cannot be that the State is hanging to one man. The guy is on retirement. The State is hanging on to one man to prosecute this case. There must be so many capable prosecutors, but other people, like the foundation, hold the view that the man's [hands] are dirty.

"… How is it possible for you to be accused number one in a few days' time … how could you be expected to run a trial in a free and fair manner?

"It's a simple thing. Remove Downer and put another prosecutor [there] and see what we do. I can guarantee you, you do that and the trial will start yesterday.

"The State is actually delaying this case by holding on to a retiree. It is actually an insult to the rest of the prosecutors. If things would proceed like this, it would be fruits of a poison tree."

The NPA meanwhile said it was ready to proceed with the trial, adding its witnesses were lined up to testify. 

"We will oppose any application for a postponement of the matter because it is not in the best interest of anyone for the matter to be delayed further,” NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said.     

Mhaga added Zuma’s bid to privately prosecute Downer was regarded as an "intimidating and delaying tactic".  

"They know very well that those charges can never be sustained."

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