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SA court rejects Zuma graft case

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Court rejects Zuma graft case

A South African court has ruled that a corruption case against ruling party leader Jacob Zuma cannot go ahead.

He was facing charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering relating to a multi-billion dollar 1999 arms deal.

A judge in Pietermaritzburg said there was reason to believe the decision to charge him was politically motivated.

His words were drowned out by cheers of supporters outside the court. The decision means Mr Zuma is likely to become president in polls next year.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Pietermaritzburg said there were scenes of celebration outside the court, where thousands of people had gathered - some since Thursday evening for an all-night vigil.

After leaving court, Mr Zuma addressed the crowds, and led them in his trademark anti-apartheid guerrilla song, "Umshini wami" (Bring Me My Machine-Gun).

ZUMA TIMELINE
June 2005: Sacked as deputy president
October 2005: Charged with corruption
December 2005: Charged with rape
April 2006: Acquitted of rape charges
September 2006: Corruption case collapses
December 2007: Elected ANC president; re-charged with corruption shortly afterwards
September 2008: Judge rules corruption case cannot proceed
2009: Elections due

"This is a lesson that we should never keep quiet when those in power break the law," he told the crowds in his mother-tongue, Zulu.

Judge Chris Nicholson said the decision to prosecute without consulting Mr Zuma, 66, had been invalid and ordered the charges to be set aside - for the moment.

"I must repeat that this application has nothing to do with the guilt or otherwise of the applicant. It deals only with the procedural point relating to his [Zuma's] right to making representations before the respondent [the prosecution] makes a decision on whether to charge him," AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

The judge said the charges could be resubmitted but correspondents say prosecutors will come under huge pressure to drop the case altogether.

A jubilant Mr Zuma embraced his lawyer after the ruling, AP news agency reports.

Our correspondent says Mr Zuma's lawyers are due back in court before the end of the year to try and get a permanent stay of prosecution.

Under South African law, a president does not have immunity from prosecution.

Tension

The charges against Mr Zuma related to South Africa's largest post-apartheid arms deal, involving contracts totalling 30bn rand ($3.7bn; 2bn) to modernise its national defence force.

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

Supporters of Jacob Zuma in an all-night vigil in Pietermaritzburg
Mr Zuma has mass grass-roots support in the ruling ANC

Mr Zuma was sacked as South Africa's deputy president in 2005, when his financial adviser was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on behalf of Mr Zuma and jailed for 15 years in connection with the deal.

He then went on trial, but the case collapsed in 2006 when the prosecution said it was not ready to proceed.

He was charged again last December shortly after winning a bitter campaign against President Thabo Mbeki to become ANC leader in what his allies say was a political conspiracy to prevent him becoming president.

Elections are due to be held in April or May 2009.

Tension was raised this week, following the publication of a cartoon showing Mr Zuma about to rape a figure labelled "Justice System" - a reference to the criticism of judges by Mr Zuma's supporters.

"We will eliminate any forces that come our way," ANC Youth League president Julius Malema said on Wednesday, according to local media.

In April 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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