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Page last updated at 15:19 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 16:19 UK

Zuma setback in corruption case

Jacob Zuma, President of the African National Congress (June 2008)
Jacob Zuma is favourite to be South Africa's next president

South African ruling party leader Jacob Zuma has lost a legal bid to stop documents being used as evidence in his forthcoming corruption trial.

The country's highest court upheld earlier rulings allowing prosecutors to present documents seized from Mr Zuma's home and other locations.

Mr Zuma is accused of racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud in connection with a giant arms deal.

The favourite to succeed Thabo Mbeki as president, he denies the charges.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) said it respected the court's decision, but doubted whether Mr Zuma would get a fair trial.

'Persecuted'

The way the case has been handled had reinforced the perception that the ANC president was being persecuted rather than prosecuted, the party said.

It said party leaders and supporters would rally outside Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal province next Monday, where Mr Zuma is expected to ask for the charges against him to be thrown out.

Mr Zuma, 66, who was not in court to hear the ruling, has said he will step down as ANC leader if convicted.

The Communist Party, one of Mr Zuma's leading supporters, has lambasted the ruling, saying it would not stop him being the head of state - a statement echoed by the youth league of the governing ANC party.

But the main opposition Democratic Alliance said the court's decision showed that the highest court in South Africa could act without fear or favour and that a major obstacle to Mr Zuma facing justice had been removed.

Mr Zuma was the country's deputy president before being fired in 2005 when his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on behalf of Mr Zuma and jailed for 15 years in connection with an arms deal.

Mr Zuma then went on trial, but the case collapsed in 2006 when the prosecution said it was not ready to proceed - a court had ruled that documents obtained during raids could not be used by prosecutors because the search warrants used by police were illegal.

Last year, the Supreme Court upheld appeals against this ruling, saying that the tens of thousands of pages of seized documents could be used in evidence.

In Thursday's ruling, Chief Justice Pius Langa said the Constitutional Court had found "nothing untoward" in a raid by South Africa's Scorpions police unit on Mr Zuma's home in August 2005, AFP news agency reports.

It ordered Mr Zuma to pay legal costs in the case. He argues that moves against him are politically motivated.

He was charged last December shortly after winning a bitter campaign against President Mbeki to become ANC leader.

In February 2006, Mr Zuma was acquitted of rape in a separate case, though he was widely criticised for comments about sex and HIV/Aids.



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