zuma learns the hard way

Eric Naki

Eric Naki

Opposition parties yesterday said the decision by the constitutional court was a lesson for ANC president Jacob Zuma that he could not delay facing justice.

The Concourt yesterday ruled against an application by Zuma and French arms company Thint contesting the lawfulness of search and seizure operations at their premises.

The two parties also lost their bid to nullify the letter of request obtained by the state to bring 14 original documents from Mauritius to South Africa for use in their corruption trial.

Announcing the ruling, Concourt head, Chief Justice Pius Langa, also asked all courts to discourage litigation primary to criminal trials that are meant to delay the commencement of trials.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said the judgment should teach Zuma that "his delaying tactics are failing".

Holomisa said Zuma should "display leadership by facing the music".

He also advised the ANC leader to discard the politicians that surround him for their selfish ends.

DA leader Hellen Zille said the Concourt decision meant that "a major obstacle to Zuma facing justice has been removed".

The search-and-seizure operations were conducted on Zuma's residences and offices of his lawyer Michael Hulley and arms firm Thint on August 18 and September 8 2005. The ruling was endorsed by nine of the 10 Concourt judges, with only Judge Sandile Ngcobo dissenting.

In its ruling the court said the fact that the Scorpions did not notify Zuma, Hulley and Thint when applying to Ngoepe for the warrants was not unlawful because the procedure to apply to a judge did not need a notification to the parties.

It said the terms of the warrants were neither overboard nor unduly vague and therefore intelligible as required by law and fell within the provision of the NPA Act.

The court granted the applicants leave to appeal "in the interest of justice".

Ngcobo concurred with his colleagues about the granting of leave to appeal. But he expressed concern that Hulley, as an officer of the court who was not a subject of the investigation, could be subjected to such drastic actions without being given an opportunity to produce the required documents.

Langa said the decision excluded Hulley from the "catch-all" paragraph - authorising the search and seizure of any item that might have bearing on the Scorpions investigation.

Langa said the "catch-all" was lawful for the search warrants except its use at Hulley's office.

"In that context, the catch-all paragraph posed too great a danger that privileged documents would be seen by state investigators. However, as the paragraph was not executed in any way, Messrs Hulley and Zuma suffered no prejudice."

The judges did not agree with the submission that Zuma's dignity had been infringed when he became named as a suspect, saying: "His right to be presumed innocent was untrammelled".

"There is no right not to be named as a suspect in a criminal matter," said Langa.