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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Former South African president Jacob Zuma faces prosecution 

Charges relate to arms deals made before he was elected

Former South African president Jacob Zuma listens as new party Cyril Ramaphosa leader addresses delegates during the closing of the ANC's elective conference in Johannesburg on December 21, 2017. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo
Former South African president Jacob Zuma listens as new party Cyril Ramaphosa leader addresses delegates during the closing of the ANC's elective conference in Johannesburg on December 21, 2017. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo

Former South African president Jacob Zuma will face prosecution on corruption charges that haunted for much of his term in office, the country's chief prosecutor said on Friday.

"After consideration of the matter there are reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution of Mr Zuma," said National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams at a media briefing in Pretoria.

"A trial court would be the most appropriate [venue] for the ventilation of the issues."

The former president could now appeal the ruling on a number of grounds and argue that the decision is illegitimate as Mr Abrahams' own position is uncertain.

In December, the High Court in Pretoria ordered then-deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to replace Mr Abrahams, ruling that Mr Zuma's original decision to appoint him was "null and void" because he was "conflicted" at the time.

"Justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done - I am mindful that everyone is equal before the law," said Mr Abrahams, who noted that "Mr Zuma disputes all allegations against him".

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"I don't think Zuma can stay out of court – there's too many charges hanging over him," Nomavenda Mathiane, an independent political analyst and author, told Agence France-Presse before the prosecutor's announcement.

Last year, a court ruled against a 2009 decision by prosecutors to drop the corruption charges against Mr Zuma just months before he became president.

Mr Zuma's criminal charges relate to multibillion-dollar arms procurement deals struck by the government in the late 1990s and from which he is accused of profiting corruptly to the tune of four million rand (Dh1.27 million).

At the time, state prosecutors justified dropping the case by saying that tapped phone calls between officials in then-president Thabo Mbeki's administration showed undue interference.

Mr Zuma and other officials were accused of taking kickbacks from the $5 billion purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and other arms manufactured by five European firms, including British military equipment maker BAE Systems and French company Thales.

In 2005 Mr Zuma's former financial adviser Schabir Shaik was convicted for facilitating bribes over the contracts and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was later released on medical parole.

Mr Zuma resigned as president last month after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party threatened to remove him from office.

In addition to the corruption scandals that dogged his time in office, Mr Zuma was under fire for his handling of the economy, which has been battered by falling economic growth and record unemployment.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party has campaigned since 2009 to reactivate the charges relating to the military contracts. Mr Zuma insists he is innocent.

His successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to tackle corruption, admitting it was a major problem in the government.