Zuma spy tapes U-turn

THREE years after criminal charges were withdrawn against President Jacob Zuma, the South African public will finally have an insight into the controversial spy tapes that got him off the hook.

In a U-turn necessitated by an order of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the National Prosecuting Authority yesterday revealed that it would file transcripts of the tapes.

The tapes have been a guarded state secret since their existence came to the fore in 2009 and have become a nightmare for Zuma and the NPA and some of its structures.

NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga yesterday said the authority's senior counsel had decided to follow the processes as set out in the judgment.

In an unanimous March 20 ruling, the SCA ordered that the acting national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, file a reduced record of the proceedings that led to then acting national director of public prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe to abandon Zuma's prosecution.

Zuma was let off the hook on corruption charges relating to bribes he allegedly received after he made presentations to the NPA.

The SCA's ruling followed an application brought by the DA on whether Mpshe's decision to drop the charges was legally sound and not politically motivated.

The DA had argued that disclosing the spy tapes - which contained intercepted recordings of conversations between senior political and judicial officials - and controversy around the way in which the charges were subsequently dropped, could be put to rest if the matter were deliberated in a public court.

DA MP James Selfe said yesterday that his party was pleased with the NPA's decision to heed the SCA ruling and would study the reduced record.

"Depending on the nature of the documentation we receive, we will brief our legal team to proceed with the substantive review of this decision, with the objective of determining before a court of law whether the decision to discontinue the prosecution against Jacob Zuma was based on rational defensible legal grounds, or whether it was in fact a political decision," Selfe said.

Mhaga said the NPA was finalising the preparation of the reduced records and they would be filed in the Pretoria High Court by today.

"The NPA believes that it was the correct decision and will continue to defend it in court. Once there is a final court ruling on the merits, the NPA will respect the outcome as it always does," said Mhaga.

He said the NPA's decision to release the spy tape records was informed by the fact that:

l The judgment dealt with preliminary issues that had no direct impact on Mpshe's decision and did not deal with the merits of the decision.

l The judgment only decided on the issue of the DA's legal standing to challenge that decision by way of review.

l Pursuing an appeal will result in piecemeal litigation and unnecessary delay because the merits of the review will still have to be determined in the event of the Constitutional Court dismissing the appeal.

l Consequently, it would not be in the interests of justice to ask the Constitutional Court to deal with an appeal against the SCA judgment at this stage.

Zuma had opposed the DA's application and in his affidavits asked the court to dismiss it, saying that, if it did not, not only would his image be tarnished but so would that of South Africa and the NPA.

The SCA had, however, ruled that not the entire transcript should be made available and that the record to be filed in court should exclude written representations made on behalf of Zuma and any consequent memoranda or reports prepared in response, or oral representations, if their production would breach confidentiality agreements.

It ruled that some of the representations were protected and would not be disclosed.