March 27, 2023
Demonstration by supporters of former South African President Jacob Zuma outside the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, October 10, 2022. Rajesh JANTILAL / AFP

The judge in the corruption trial of the former South African president Jacob Zuma announced Monday, January 30 during a hearing to recuse himself, risking to restart the case from the beginning in court.

I have come to the conclusion that I must recuse myself from the trial. This is dictated by the proper administration of justice, the Constitution and my conscience“, declared judge Piet Koen at the court of Pietermaritzburg (south-east) during a hearing broadcast on television.

Sixteen counts

Jacob Zuma, 80, is accused of taking bribes from the French defense group Thales in a case more than 20 years old. He is being prosecuted on sixteen counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering. Thales is also charged with corruption and money laundering. The former head of state was not present at this technical hearing.

For months, Jacob Zuma has been increasing his appeals to challenge the attorney general at trial, Billy Downer, whom he accuses of bias. Last year, Judge Koen denied that request.

The latter now fears that this decision could lead to questioning his own impartiality “when the question of whether Mr. Zuma received a constitutionally fair trial will arise“, he explained. “If Judge Koen does not continue the trial, a new judge will have toto sit, explained to AFP Cathy Powell, constitutional expert at the University of Cape Town. The trial will then have tostart again“fears the lawyer.

“Creeping Corruption”

Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial began in May 2021 with already many postponements and delays, in particular linked to a multiplication of appeals launched by the accused.

A landmark report on rampant corruption during Jacob Zuma’s nine-year presidency (2009-2018), delivered to President Cyril Ramaphosa last year, shed light on the former head of state’s pivotal role in the systematic looting of public coffers.

Jacob Zuma, who stubbornly refused to testify before an ad hoc commission of inquiry, had been sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of justice. His imprisonment in July 2021 had triggered an unprecedented wave of violence and looting in South Africa in a degraded socio-economic context. He was released on parole after two months on medical parole. The next hearing in his trial has been set for April 17.

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