The corruption trial of former South African President Jacob Zuma was postponed again Monday as he seeks to have the lead prosecutor removed from the case by claiming he is biased.
Zuma has already succeeded in getting a new judge to oversee his trial.
Zuma, who turned 81 last week, has argued that prosecutor Billy Downer is biased against him and compromises the former leader’s right to a fair trial. Zuma is involved in a separate legal case against Downer and a journalist over the leaking of the ex-president’s medical records by state prosecutors.
Zuma is facing multiple counts of corruption, as well as racketeering, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, with some of the charges relating to bribes he is alleged to have taken from French arms manufacturing company Thales to provide political protection for an arms deal worth more than $1 billion signed by the South African government in 1999.
Thales, which was then known as Thomson-CSF, is a co-defendant in the corruption trial.
The charges relate to a time when Zuma was a politician on the rise and later a deputy president of South Africa, but before he became president in 2009. He was forced to resign as president in 2018 because of corruption allegations.
Some of the alleged wrongdoing dates back as far as the mid-1990s, yet Zuma only went on trial two years ago after the charges were dropped and reinstated multiple times amid political interference.
Despite the trial officially starting in May 2021, no testimony has yet been heard because of a series of applications made by Zuma to get the initial judge to recuse himself and to remove Downer.
Judge Nkosinathi Chili, the new judge, said Monday that the case would resume on Aug. 15 and 16, when Zuma’s lawyers and prosecutors will present their arguments over whether Downer should remain on the case.
Zuma faces a minimum of 15 years in prison if he is convicted of involvement in major corruption. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The case is highly politically sensitive in South Africa given the support Zuma still holds in parts of the country and the influence he has retained within the ruling African National Congress party.
Deadly rioting and looting broke out and more than 300 people were killed in a week of unrest when Zuma was sentenced to a 15-month prison term in 2021 for contempt of court in relation to another corruption inquiry. Zuma was released early from that jail sentence on medical parole.
The riots were the worst civil unrest in South Africa since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in 1994.
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