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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Former SA official denies graft
South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma
It is widely regarded that Mr Zuma's political career is on the line
A former financial adviser to South Africa's Deputy President Jacob Zuma has pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and corruption.

Millionaire businessman Schabir Shaik entered the plea at a packed courtroom in the city of Durban.

He is accused of making improper payments to Mr Zuma of more than $150,000 in an effort to secure business contracts.

The judge reminded the court that Mr Zuma himself was not on trial.

"The deputy president is not on trial... it should be clearly understood that the summary of fact is not established fact and unless proven it should not be regarded as truth," Judge Hilary Squires cautioned, as one of South Africa's most sensational corruption trials got underway.

The BBC's Grant Clark, who attended the trial, says that although Mr Zuma has not been charged, it is widely regarded that his political career is on the line.

The deputy president - tipped to succeed President Thabo Mbeki - has denied any wrongdoing.

'Curry favour'

In their opening statement, defence lawyers painted a compassionate picture of Mr Shaik helping out an old friend in financial trouble, our correspondent says.

They said Mr Shaik made large personal loans to Mr Zuma, paid his rent and funded his children's education, after the politician confided that he was having money problems.

The state is arguing that Mr Shaik wrote off the debt because Mr Zuma was never intended to pay back the loans - they were meant to curry favour.

Prosecution lawyers said they will also try to prove that the businessman arranged for a French arms manufacturer to pay Mr Zuma almost $80,000 a year in return for protection against a probe into arms deal irregularities.

Mr Shaik also faces charges of money laundering and tax evasion.

On Tuesday the court rejected an application by broadcasters to televise the trial, expected to last until the end of the year.

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