S. Africa court says Zuma can be tried

Presidential candidate faces corruption case

By Donna Bryson
Associated Press / January 13, 2009
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BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa - African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma sustained a legal defeat yesterday that could force him to divide his time between a corruption trial and a presidential campaign.

South Africa's second-highest court cleared the way for a new corruption trial for Zuma, overturning a lower court's decision to throw out the case. Supreme Court judge Louis Harms said the original ruling was riddled with errors and ignored basic legal standards.

Prosecutors said they will seek a new trial date, while the ANC said Zuma remains its presidential candidate.

The ruling happened two days after Zuma was cheered like a rock star at a rally that drew tens of thousands and launched the governing party's campaign for elections expected in March or April.

The ANC presents Zuma as the face of its shift to a more populist style, and dismisses the charges against him as a plot by rivals led by former president, Thabo Mbeki.

The ANC, embraced as the party that led the battle against apartheid, has dominated all three votes since white rule ended in 1994. It is expected to do well this year also, even with the cloud of suspicion over Zuma and a new challenge from Mbeki supporters who broke away to form a party late last year.

Zuma's camp is worried, though, that the presidency could be decided not by voters at the polls, but in velvet-draped courtrooms like the one where Harms overturned a lower court's decision to throw out the case against Zuma.

In a scathing opinion, Harms took the unusual step of reading his entire ruling, saying that was appropriate because the lower court judge had read out the original ruling. The original ruling, which Harms said was riddled with errors, helped lead to the ouster of Mbeki as South Africa's president in September.

Zuma did not attend the hearing in Bloemfontein, where the Supreme Court is based. Instead, a senior ANC leader, Mathole Motshekga, sat with Zuma's attorneys as the judgment was read and later said Zuma would likely take the matter to the country's highest court, the Constitutional Court.

Zuma cannot be president if he is convicted, but he can run for the presidency while he faces charges.

Prosecutors said they would seek a date for Zuma to stand trial. Tlali Tlali, the spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority said the existing charges would stand - corruption, fraud, money laundering, and racketeering relating to a multibillion-rand (dollar) government arms deal in the late 1990s.

Mbeki fired Zuma as vice president when the charges emerged in 2005.

Zuma is accused of accepting bribes to thwart a probe into wrongdoing by a French arms company. He has warned that if he goes to trial "the truth will be revealed."

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