Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 17:25 UK

Zuma corruption charges dropped

Jubilant supporters of Jacob Zuma celebrate after corruption charges were dropped

South Africa prosecutors have dropped graft charges against African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma.

Chief prosecutor Mokotedi Mpshe said phone-tap evidence suggested political interference in the investigation.

Mr Zuma, who is expected to become president after elections this month, has always denied claims of graft over a multimillion dollar 1999 arms deal.

The ANC welcomed the outcome but the opposition said it left democracy in peril ahead of the 22 April polls.

The BBC's Alexis Akwagyiram says the ANC office at Polokwane in Limpopo province greeted Monday's decision - broadcast live on radio and television - with jubilation.

A party bus in the town turned up with a sound system and ANC supporters began dancing with banners.

Secret recordings

Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's secretary general, told reporters at party headquarters in Johannesburg: "This decision is a victory for the rule of law, decency and common sense."

Views from Polokwane on dropping Jacob Zuma's graft case

The chief prosecutor said the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) had obtained recordings of phone conversations which suggested the timing of the decision to charge Mr Zuma in 2007 had been manipulated.

"I have come to the difficult conclusion that it is neither possible nor desirable for the NPA to continue with the prosecution of Mr Zuma," Mr Mphse said.

The chief prosecutor read out transcripts of recorded conversations between former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka and Leonard McCarthy, the man who led the now disbanded anti-corruption unit known as the Scorpions.

Mr Mpshe said the pair had discussed timing charges against Mr Zuma to cause political damage.

"Mr McCarthy used the legal process for a purpose outside and extraneous to the prosecution itself," he said. "It was pure abuse of process," Mr Mpshe added.

Loose ends

The main opposition Democratic Alliance said it would apply for a judicial review of the decision.

What we have seen here today is a show trial two weeks before an election
DA leader Helen Zille

Party leader Hellen Zille said: "What we've seen here today is an abuse of the NPA's role.

"What we have seen here today is a show trial two weeks before an election by the National Prosecuting Authority using a press conference as if it's a court of law."

The Congress of the People (Cope), a recently formed political party that broke away from the ANC, said in a statement: "South Africa deserves better.

"The dream of 1994 is dying, killed by the ANC and its alliance partners - South Africa is in great peril," it added, referring to the nation's first democratic vote at the end of white minority rule 15 years ago.

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
January 2009: Prosecutors win appeal, opening the way for Zuma to be recharged
6 April 2009: Prosecutors drop charges after receiving new phone-tap evidence
22 April 2009: Elections due

Earlier, opposition Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi told the BBC: "If the charges are just dropped when there is no trial it seems to me the stink of what they accused him of will not go away."

Mr Zuma was first charged with graft, racketeering and money-laundering in 2005, but never faced trial.

The case was dropped the following year, but he was recharged 10 days after he defeated former South African President Thabo Mbeki in elections to be the ANC's leader in December 2007.

Last year a judge ruled that there had been political meddling in the case, but the NPA successfully appealed.

The BBC's Africa analyst Martin Plaut says despite mountains of evidence, South African justice has proved incapable of dealing with a case that has been wrapped up in the internal workings of the governing party - the ANC.

The prosecutor provided evidence that his predecessor had manipulated the case to suit the ANC, yet said plainly that he had no evidence that this had been done at the behest of Mr Mbeki.

Despite the outcome of the affair it is likely to taint Mr Zuma's presidency and the governance of the country as the ANC leader has not had a chance to clear his name in court and the country will not forget the serious allegations, he says.

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