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South African Court Issues Warrant for Jacob Zuma’s Arrest

JOHANNESBURG — A judge in South Africa issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for Jacob Zuma, the former president, for failing to appear in court on a corruption case that he has sought to avoid for months, most recently by asserting that he is ill.

The warrant, requested by the National Prosecuting Authority, does not come into effect until the case resumes on May 6, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Mr. Zuma is said to be in Cuba seeking medical treatment, according to the state broadcaster, but the prosecutor requested his health records be shown as evidence of his claim that he is sick.

One of the prosecutors, Billy Downer, told the Pietermaritzburg High Court that Mr. Zuma’s legal team had said that the former president would be out of the country for treatment until mid-March, local news media reported. According to Mr. Zuma’s team, he had two operations in early January before going abroad. But the judge questioned a letter from a military hospital in the administrative capital, Pretoria, explaining Mr. Zuma’s absence, noting that it had no date.

A lawyer for Mr. Zuma, Daniel Mantsha, told the state broadcaster that his side was not happy with the arrest warrant.

“That is sending a wrong message that our courts have no sympathy, no compassion, and that is not something that should be celebrated,” he said.

Mr. Zuma’s medical team will determine his fitness to appear before the court in May, Mr. Mantsha added.

It was not clear when the former president would return from Cuba. According to the Justice Department of South Africa, the two countries have negotiated but not signed an extradition agreement.

Mr. Zuma, 77, whose past court appearances have been marked by defiant speeches and singing and dancing by crowds of supporters, has faded into the background as his legal challenges to the corruption charges have faltered.

Late last year, a court dismissed Mr. Zuma’s attempt to appeal a ruling that cleared the way for him to be prosecuted. He is accused of receiving bribes from the French arms manufacturer Thales through his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was convicted of fraud and corruption in 2005.

Mr. Zuma denies charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering related to a 1999 arms deal when he was deputy president. He has said that his case has been prejudiced by lengthy delays in bringing the matter to trial. He has also made claims of political interference.

The charges against Mr. Zuma were initially thrown out by prosecutors nearly a decade ago in a contentious decision that opened the way for him to become president. Prosecutors returned to the case after his rocky presidency ended.

Mr. Zuma, who took office in 2009, resigned in 2018 under pressure from his African National Congress party after widespread public outcry over separate allegations of mismanagement and corruption that impacted state-owned companies.

The corruption is estimated to have cost South Africa billions of dollars.

South Africa and its economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa, have struggled to recover under Mr. Zuma’s successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has apologized for the past mismanagement and vowed overhauls that some critics have said are long in coming.

The scandals fueled outrage and have also badly hurt the reputation of the A.N.C., which has ruled South Africa since the harsh system of white minority rule known as apartheid ended in 1994.

The scandals also severely hurt investor confidence.

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