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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
S Africa arms fraud trial starts
By Alastair Leithead
BBC, Johannesburg

South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma
Zuma may appear in the court case
A high-profile fraud and corruption trial has begun in South Africa.

Deputy President Jacob Zuma's financial advisor Shabir Shaik, a millionaire businessman, is accused of passing him bribes from a French arms company.

This was intended to deflect corruption investigations into a $7bn arms deal, prosecutors allege.

But South Africa knows it is really about Mr Zuma - tipped to succeed President Thabo Mbeki if he can survive the trial of his advisor.

It is a scandal which has haunted Jacob Zuma for more than a year, has brought allegations of mudslinging within the ruling party and claimed the scalp of the chief prosecutor.

Mr Shaik's charge sheet of fraud and corruption implicates the deputy president.

Among other things, the financial advisor is accused of passing on bribes to Jacob Zuma in exchange for using his position to protect a French weapons dealer from investigations into the country's controversial arms deal.

If Shaik is convicted, it is likely charges will then be laid against the deputy president.

The ruling party has rallied behind Jacob Zuma, who along with Shabir Shaik denies any wrongdoing.

The trial has begun with corruption charges being dropped against the French company and it is expected to last until the end of the year.

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