AS IT HAPPENED | Case against former president Jacob Zuma and Thales postponed to 19 July

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26 May 14:23

Zuma thanks his supporters for their presence. "I hope we will see this case to its finality... I have never taken anything from anyone; I have done nothing wrong". 

26 May 14:12

Zuma is on the stage: he is regaling his supporters on what happened inside court today. "We've concluded that this case cannot continue with him [Downer] as the prosecutor for the reasons we set out in our submissions," he recounts.

26 May 13:53

 ANC KZN provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli announces that two speakers - Ace Magashule and Sihle Zikalala - will speak before Zuma takes the stage. The two spoke outside court the last time he appeared as well.

26 May 12:58

Former president Jacob Zuma talks to his counsel at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 26 May 2021. (Photo: Karyn Maughan/News24)
<em>Former president Jacob Zuma talks to his counsel at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 26 May 2021. (Photo: Karyn Maughan/News24)</em>

26 May 12:45

The case against Zuma and Thales is postponed to 19 July.

26 May 12:44

Judge Koen raising a pivotal issue here: Zuma is attacking Downer's "title" to prosecute him - a very narrow legal issue that concerns a prosecutor's delegation to argue a case. He points out that the case law on this issue is very limited and stresses that the plea "is not a recusal". In other words, will allegations of nefarious political intent by the state - already dealt with by multiple courts - even be relevant here?

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:36

Downer says state disputes the special plea claims made by Zuma - both factually and legally.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:36

Thales is denying that it paid Zuma a bribe to protect it from any investigation into the Arms Deal. 

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:32

He further argued that Thales "knew" that Zuma’s protection from any potential Arms Deal investigation was intended to ensure the continuation of the contract to provide combat suites, which Thales and Shaik’s companies had won. 

This would provide Shaik’s Nkobi company, which had an effective 20% shareholding in Thales’ ADS subsidiary, with future profits from dividends that ADS would generate as part of its various Arms Deal contracts.

Thales would pay Zuma annual bribes of R500 000 until these ADS dividends started being paid out. 

"The inference is unavoidable that such Thales 'bridging finance' by way of the annual bribes was calculated only as a temporary measure until Nkobi itself could continue the bribes to Mr Zuma." Downer stated in court papers.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:31

Thales denies that it entered into a corrupt agreement to bribe Zuma.

Downer has previously contended that there is evidence that Thales and Shaik secured Zuma’s assistance "in resolving Thales' uncertainty about Mr Shaik’s political credentials during 1998", when the arms company started having doubts about whether Shaik really was its best choice for a politically connected business partner in the Arms Deal. Zuma’s alleged backing of Shaik assuaged Thales’ concerns, the state says.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:25

Jackson for Thales: It is denied that the second accused was aware of the alleged enterprise and its activities and participated in the alleged enterprise. It is denied that the second accused was even aware of the alleged benefits and payments by Shaik to or on behalf of the first accused (Zuma).

- Jeanette Chabalala

26 May 12:24

Shaik’ s company Nkobi had been chosen by Thales as its black empowerment partner in SA after alleged lobbying by Zuma. Shaik He was convicted in 2005 of having brokered that deal as part of his corrupt relationship with Zuma.

Jackson says Thales denies that it appointed Nkobi as a BEE partner because of Zuma's alleged lobbying.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:20

Thales denies that it is guilty of racketeering and denies it was even aware of the alleged benefits paid by Shaik to Zuma - and therefore was not a knowing part of their alleged organised criminal enterprise.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:20

Advocate Samantha Jackson, for French arms company Thales, will now read its plea explanation into the record.

26 May 12:17

Note: Evidence later led at the Inquiry revealed that the State Security Agency had unlawfully detained and interrogated Zuma’s estranged wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma over that alleged 2014 poisoning, which the NPA later found was not proven with any medical evidence.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:16

Note: This is not the first time that Zuma has claimed that he was the target of foreign intelligence agency plots. During his July 2019 appearance before the State Capture Inquiry, he blamed his legal and political difficulties on a foreign and apartheid intelligence conspiracy against him. He also claimed that he had "survived attempts to kill me" – including being poisoned with a "very dangerous poison".

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:15

Zuma now acknowledges that Downer stressed that he should have been charged with Shaik, but says that the NPA's failure to do so "has never been satisfactorily explained to me".

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:12

Comment: Karyn, it does seem as if this judge wants to get on with the legal arguments, he wants to consider the substance of the charges, no? He's still indulging the defence team to a degree, but I get a sense he's not going to take his eye off the proverbial ball. 

- Pieter du Toit

26 May 12:12

Judge Koen stresses to Masuku that he has read Zuma's affidavit and "done a lot of work on it". There's an obvious clash going here between Zuma's desire to use his special plea to score points against the NPA and his political adversaries - and the judge's insistence that this trial focus on the legal defense being mounted by Zuma.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:08

Zuma claims Downer knew about McCarthy’s "criminal conduct which undoubtedly tainted the prosecution" but does not refer to any specific evidence that proves this. Tellingly, Zuma says he wants "to know and hear from McCarthy if he was lawfully authorised to sanction intelligence operations against me to gather information that Mr Downer SC would use against me". 

"I want to know who authorised him to conduct intelligence operations against me. I want to know the extent of his engagement with Mr Downer SC who reported to him. I want to know who are the foreign intelligence agencies that unlawfully helped McCarthy with evidence against me".

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:05

Zuma claims he has "come across information" that former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy was an operative for America’s Central Intelligence Agency and was handled by an agent called "Andre Pienaar". Zuma claims "Pienaar", who he says was code-named "Luciano", was responsible for getting McCarthy his job at the World Bank.

"I fear that Mr Downer SC has covered up McCarthy’s despicable conduct in manipulating my trial for political and intelligence reasons," Zuma states, adding that "sources" had provided information that McCarthy had "regular and unlawful" contact with foreign intelligence agencies "during his investigation of me".

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 12:03

Advocate Thabani Masuku SC for Zuma addresses the court. He says it is important that the accused is given a chance to explain his plea, particularly Zuma's complaint that there was "political intelligence interference". He asks for 30 minutes to say what he needs to say. The judge stresses that the purpose of today's proceedings is disclose Zuma's legal basis for his defense, not for all his evidence in the plea to be ventilated.

- Jeanette Chabalala & Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:58

Mpofu asks Judge Koen to discuss in chambers what the future progress of the special plea will be. The judge declines, as this is a matter of public interest. "I would prefer things to be transparent", he says.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:57

Comment: Zuma is arguing that Downer's consistent stance that he should tried for corruption - which has been upheld by the courts - is indicative that he is not impartial or independent. He uses the word "obsessive" to describe Downer, who he accuses of using his trial as a "personal legacy project".

He relies on evidence that has already been dismissed by multiple courts to argue that his fair trial rights were violated - when no such findings have ever been made.

He accuses Downer of embarking on a strategy to charge his financial advisor Schabir Shaik on his own as a "dry run" for his own trial - despite the fact that Downer strongly argued that both Zuma and Shaik should be tried together.

Zuma appears to be ignoring any court ruling that went against him and ignoring proven facts to make his argument.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:57

Zuma: I am concerned about his [Downer] relentless pursuit of this prosecution. It is not about finding the truth but to bolster his political narrative of a corrupt political leader.

- Kamva Somdyala

26 May 11:56

Zuma also argues that Downer’s public engagement in which he has "freely given strong views about my prosecution has no doubt been part of what galvanised the political campaigns for my prosecutions". 

- Jeanette Chabalala

26 May 11:52

Zuma: I am aware of Mr Downer SC’s intimate engagements with journalists from transcripts of telephone records in which Mr Downer SC held meetings with investigative journalists who were writing very prejudicial articles about me.

Jeanette Chabalala

26 May 11:50

Zuma says Downer has turned this trial into a "personal legacy project of his own rather than a pursuit of justice".

He [Downer] has "championed my prosecution with unrestrained gusto to ensure I am convicted at all costs," Zuma's plea reads.

- Kamva Somdyala

26 May 11:46

Mpofu now referring to Downer's conversations with journalist Sam Sole, which were recorded in the Spy Tapes. Zuma contends, without any real specificity, that Downer breached his rights to confidentiality.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:44

Zuma also contends that Downer is guilty of an offence for not reporting the political interference in his prosecution.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:43

Zuma now argues that Downer’s stance that the Spy Tapes were not a lawful basis to discontinue his prosecution – which was upheld by the courts – shows that he believes that "political interference in a prosecution should be tolerated or even accepted".

"I am concerned that Mr Downer SC’s relentless pursuit of this prosecution is not aimed at finding the truth but to bolster the political narrative of a corrupt leader of the ANC and President."

"My reasonable apprehension is that Mr Downer SC’s position on political interference is wrong and disqualifies him as the prosecutor of this case on the grounds that he lacks the independence and impartiality necessary to conduct my case lawfully".

Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:40

Comment: While the High Court and Appeal Court rejected the arguments made by former Asset Forfeiture Unit head Willie Hofmeyr and Mpshe in defense of the decision to drop the Zuma charges, the former president attacks Billy Downer for not sharing their views. He also ignores the Appeal Court’s scathing assessment of Hofmeyr’s evidence that there was political interference in the Zuma prosecution. The court found that testimony was unsubstantiated and based on speculation.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:39

"Mr Downer SC’s dispute with the NPA over whether political and unlawful intelligence interference in my prosecution justified a termination of my prosecution creates a conflict of interest the nature of which breached the requirements of independence and impartiality," Zuma contends.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:38

Zuma's plea continues: He says supporting a political party's application "to have me prosecuted creates the impression that he is not impartial". He says his fair trial rights as envisaged by the Constitution have been "vitiated" by what he calls Downer's "conflict of interest". The party in question is the DA and he keeps using the turn of phrase: "a political party hostile towards me".

- Kamva Somdyala

26 May 11:37

Zuma is making much of the fact that Downer filed an affidavit in the "Spy Tapes" legal challenge. He did so, not as part of the DA's challenge to the rationality and legality of then NPA acting head Mokotedi Mpshe's decision to drop the case against Zuma because of the Spy Tapes recordings, but as part of the NPA's case.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:32

We resume. Mpofu says Zuma wants to place as much of his 141-page affidavit in his special plea read into the record. He says Zuma believes that "his right to a fair trial is what is at stake" in his special plea.

- Karyn Maughan

26 May 11:22

[ICYMI] WATCH | Zuma arrives in court

26 May 11:07

Judge Piet Koen confirms that he has read Zuma's special plea and his affidavit, which are 141 pages long.

We adjourn. Back at 11:25.

26 May 11:06

Zuma is unhappy that Downer filed an affidavit - on behalf of the NPA - in the so-called "Spy Tapes" litigation. In that affidavit, Downer confirmed that he and his fellow Zuma prosecutors believed that then acting NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe was wrong to drop the case against Zuma, on the basis of the so-called "Spy Tapes" recordings. They were vindicated when the High Court and Appeal Court ruled that Mpshe's decision was irrational and unlawful.

Karyn Maughan

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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