Zuma, Thint Must Wait for Charge Details
Ruling could prove hollow victory for state
Jacob Zuma and his co-accused in the corruption matter, the French arms company Thint, will not be given any further particulars of the allegations against them until the state has finalised the indictment.
This is the effect of a decision handed down by KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Judge President Phillip Levinsohn yesterday, in an application by Thint for an order compelling the state to provide finer details of the allegations they face.
On the face of it the ruling might be a victory for the state, but it could turn out to be hollow because lawyers acting for Zuma and Thint will undoubtedly use this to claim their clients will not have a fair trial.
Levinsohn even hinted at this in his judgment, saying: "I am not called upon to speculate what the outcome of the state's delay in formulating the revised indictment will be and what effect or impact it would have on the continuation of the trial set down for July 2006."
These were matters which, no doubt, would exercise the mind of the judge hearing the trial.
His ruling means that Zuma and Thint will not be able to effectively prepare for the trial and gives them more ammunition on July 31 to argue that their rights to a speedy and fair trial have been infringed. This could ultimately lead to an application for a stay of prosecution.
It will most definitely delay the start of the trial which, Zuma's lawyers are already arguing, will affect his political career, with ANC office-bearer elections scheduled for the end of next year.
Levinsohn neither granted nor refused the application, apparently to avoid prejudicing any party.
But he commented that he agreed with submissions by senior state advocate Billy Downer that it was premature to provide the further particulars now, while the indictment was still deemed "provisional" and would be amended.
At present Zuma and Thint are facing the same charges on which Zuma's former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison by Durban High Court Judge Hilary Squires last year.
Shaik has appealed against both his conviction and sentence and the matter is pending before the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The outcome of this will have a bearing on the Zuma/Thint trial.
But this is not the only problem the state has, as spelled out by Downer at Friday's hearing and repeated in Levinsohn's judgment yesterday.
He said that when the state had decided to charge Zuma and Thint, it had been based on the Shaik judgment "and it ought not to have had any great problems, logistically or otherwise, in proceeding to trial expeditiously".
But the case had acquired "new dimensions" with new information that the corrupt activities between Zuma and Shaik had continued beyond the date which featured in the Shaik charges.
This prompted raids on various premises of Zuma and Thint and their attorneys and the removal of documents. The raids were subsequently declared unlawful and the state was now appealing against this, the judge said.
In the meantime, in October last year, Zuma and Thint were furnished with a "provisional indictment" and the matter was referred to the high court.
"It seems clear that the state notified the accused (at that time) that the indictment would change," Levinsohn said.
From argument before him, it was now clear that the state had difficulty preparing an expanded indictment because it was awaiting the ultimate decision on the legality of the raids.
"It seems to me that when the fresh indictment is served all the accused will be in position to request further particulars and the state will then be in a position to furnish a meaningful and relevant response," the judge said.
With acknowledgement to Tania Broughton and The Mercury.