Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Thursday, 20 December 2007

S Africa's controversial arms deal

Jacob Zuma
Mr Zuma says he will quit as ANC chief only if a court finds him guilty
Despite his unequivocal election victory as leader of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma is by no means assured of the presidency in 2009.

After years of investigation, the National Prosecuting Authority is threatening to again press charges of corruption linked to a controversial 1999 arms deal, forcing Mr Zuma to resign if convicted.

Mr Zuma strenuously denies any wrongdoing. Below are details of the lengthy drama.


In 1999, the South African government announced its largest-ever post-apartheid arms deal, signing contracts totalling 30bn rand ($5bn; 2.5bn) to modernise its national defence force.

The deal involved companies from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Britain, France and South Africa.

Even before the allegations of corruption were made, the spending of billions of dollars on new fighter jets, helicopters, submarines and warships was controversial in a country where millions live in poverty.

Critics also pointed out that there was no credible threat to South Africa's sovereignty to justify the spending.

Latterly, the investigations focused on allegations of conflict of interest, bribery and process violations in the purchasing of equipment.


In 2005, Jacob Zuma was sacked as South Africa's deputy president after his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was convicted of fraud and corruption.

Shaik was found guilty of trying to solicit a bribe from Thint, the local subsidiary of French arms company Thales, on behalf of Mr Zuma.

The prosecution alleged that, in exchange, Mr Zuma was to shield the firm from an investigation linked to the 1999 deal. Shaik said the money was a donation to the Jacob Zuma Education Fund.

Shaik was also convicted of paying R1.3m to Mr Zuma in bribes to use his influence to further Shaik's business interests. The fraud count related to the accounting of the payments.

Shaik is currently serving a 15-year sentence and was ordered to pay $5.5m of his assets to the state.

The court judgement said there was evidence of "a mutually beneficial symbiosis" between the two men, adding that the payments by Shaik to Mr Zuma "can only have generated a sense of obligation in the recipient".


In 2006, Mr Zuma went on trial for corruption but the case collapsed after the prosecution said it was not ready to proceed more than a year after he was charged.

Mr Zuma was alleged to have accepted bribes from Thint to halt inquiries into the arms deal.

Last month, the Supreme Court cleared the way for a second prosecution after it upheld appeals by the state against earlier rulings preventing prosecutors from using documents seized from Mr Zuma.

Items obtained during police raids had been deemed impermissible in court because the search warrants used were illegal.

New evidence may include a diary that allegedly has information of key meetings between Mr Zuma and Thint.

The protracted saga has so far not culminated in a trial, which would either confirm the accusations or exonerate Mr Zuma.

The 65-year-old says that this is unfair, and attributes much of his support within the ANC to the way he has been treated.

His supporters maintain that he is the victim of a political smear campaign.

In May 2006, Mr Zuma was acquitted on charges of rape in an unrelated, high-profile case.


In January 2007, the ex-ANC parliamentary whip, Tony Yengeni, was released from prison in South Africa after serving just five months of a four-year fraud conviction.

His sentence was cut on appeal and further reduced by a general amnesty.

Yengeni was the chairman of parliament's defence committee at the time the government negotiated the arms deal.

He was convicted in 2003 after it emerged he had received a large discount on the purchase of a luxury car from one of the firms bidding for the contract.

He then lied to parliament about the benefit.

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