sa awaits JZ ruling with bated breath

Anna Majavu and SAPA

Anna Majavu and SAPA

Today is D-Day for ANC president Jacob Zuma with Pietermaritzburg high court Judge Chris Nicholson expected to rule whether the National Prosecuting Authority's decision to recharge him on corruption charges was constitutional.

Last month, Zuma made an application in the Pietermaritzburg high court calling for his prosecution to be declared invalid and unconstitutional.

Zuma's legal woes started in 2005 when the then national director of prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, decided to prosecute him for alleged corruption.

This was after the Durban high court had ruled that he had a "generally corrupt relationship" with convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik. The court found that Shaik had negotiated a R500000 bribe from French arms manufacturer Thint for Zuma.

In September 2006, Zuma's defence team asked Judge Herbert Msimang to strike his case off the roll , arguing that the state had failed to ensure that the ANC leader had a "fair and speedy" trial. Msimang subsequently granted the request and struck Zuma's case off the roll.

However, Zuma was recharged in December 28 , a day after he was elected the new president of the ANC. The new indictment served on him and his co-accused (Thint management) included a charge of racketeering, four charges of corruption, a charge of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud.

Legal experts have revealed that a ruling against Zuma will not mean that he has to then go to trial. If the high court rules against him, Zuma still has several options to pursue.

Last month Zuma made an application that his prosecution be declared invalid, and if Zuma wins his application to overturn the NPA's decision to re-charge him last December, he will finally be a free man. That is, unless the NPA decides to charge him again.

Professor Managay Reddi, a criminal law expert from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that should Nicholson rule in Zuma's favour, there was nothing preventing charges from being re-instituted against him.

However, this would have to be with the prior representation that Zuma's legal team has demanded.

But if Zuma loses today, he'll face trial on 18 charges of racketeering, money laundering, fraud and corruption in just a few months' time.

If Judge Nicholson rules against Zuma today, he has several options to avoid facing the full might of the law. Yesterday, Legal Resource Centre Constitutional Law expert Achmat Mayet said Zuma still had options to avoid going to trial. In the first instance, he could apply for a permanent stay of prosecution against him.

"Zuma could argue that the matter has been ventilated so much in the press and has been dragging on for so long that there is no chance of him ever getting a fair trial," said Mayet.

This has been the argument of the ANC and other members of the tripartite alliance.

The other scenario would be for Zuma to apply to the Supreme Court of Appeal to overturn Nicholson's ruling.

And if he is not granted leave to appeal, he has the option of going straight to the Constitutional Court. "In his application to the Pietermaritzburg high court, Zuma has raised constitutional grounds about his right to a fair trial having been undermined. These arguments will give him the loop in which to appeal to the Constitutional Court against Nicholson's decision," said Mayet.

Zuma's legal team has told the Pietermaritzburg high court that the Constitution guaranteed him the right to make representations to the NPA before it reversed its earlier decision not to prosecute him, but they failed to allow him to do that.

This argument now provides the basis for Zuma to approach the Constitutional Court.

The final scenario, according to Legal Resources Centre attorney Jason Brickhill, is that Zuma could make representations to the NPA and try to strike a plea bargain.

Zuma's lawyer Michael Hulley has told Sowetan in the past that he would consider pursuing the matter to the Constitutional Court, but there has been speculation lately that Zuma is preparing to strike a plea bargain with the NPA.

In exchange for providing information about the arms deal, Zuma would receive a permanent stay of prosecution, it is alleged.