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Former South African president Jacob Zuma stands in court on May 26, 2021
Zuma is accused of handling billions in state fundsImage: Phill Magakoe/Reuters

South Africa: Zuma pleads not guilty to corruption charges

May 26, 2021

Former President Jacob Zuma is being tried for graft, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. The plea marks a turning point in the decadelong trial.


Former South African President Jacob Zuma pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to several charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering.

The charges relate to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms, for nearly $5 billion.

Zuma, who was deputy president at the time, is also accused of accepting bribes totaling 4 million rand from one of the firms, the French defense giant Thales. The deal with Thales was in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into the exchange.

South Africa counts the costs of the Zuma years

Zuma says he is victim of 'witch hunt'

Zuma, who was president from 2009 to 2018, faces 18 charges relating to the 1999 deal. He has rejected the charges and said he is a victim of a politically motivated witch hunt, spurred by a rival faction of the ruling African National Congress.

"I plead not guilty," Zuma said in court, as he was dressed in a dark blue suit and red tie. He was repeatedly asked by the judge, Piet Koen, to confirm in person the response of his attorney, given "the magnitude of what we're dealing with."

He also pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption and money laundering.

Foreign investors returning to South Africa after Zuma's departure

Over a decade of waiting

His defense team is calling for the recusal of state prosecutor Billy Downer, on the grounds that he has "no title to prosecute."

Zuma's plea concludes years of delay in the long-awaited trial, which many South Africans say will deliver a historic verdict. Prosecutors intend to call around 200 witnesses in the trial. The ruling African National Congress forced Zuma to resign in 2018 after a series of scandals.

The National Prosecuting Authority filed the charges against Zuma over a decade ago, set them aside just before he ran for president in 2009, then reinstated them a month after his resignation in 2018. 

lc/aw (AFP, Reuters)

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