Publication: Pretoria News Issued: Date: 2008-08-16 Reporter: Karyn Maughan

State Wants Zuma in Dock Just Before Polls



Pretoria News



Reporter Karyn Maughan

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ANC president Jacob Zuma's prosecutors want him in the dock - weeks before South Africa goes to the polls.

But the National Prosecuting Authority insists that its suggested mid-April 2009 trial date for Zuma has nothing to do with thwarting his presidential aspirations, and is simply about the State trying to do its job.

Asked about how the State would respond to objections raised about its proposed Zuma trial date falling so close to the mooted timetable for national elections, NPA spokesman Tlali Tlali yesterday said: "We will cross that bridge when we come to it."

Stressing that the State was ready to put Zuma on trial, he added: "We cannot wait indefinitely.

"There is nothing to stop us from discharging our obligations under the law and there is nothing that suggests we can't put a proposal on the table.

"If Mr Zuma's lawyers feel that they are not being accommodated, they can approach the (Pietermaritzburg high) court. It is for the court to decide whether their reasons are legally valid."

In addition to Zuma's two legal bids to have his corruption prosecution quashed, his lawyers were yesterday formally given a further chance to stymie the presidential hopeful's pre-election trial date.

In a last-minute deal reached between lawyers for Zuma and the State yesterday morning, the Pietermaritzburg high court ruled that Zuma could formally object to his mooted trial date at his next court appearance on December 8.

The French arms company accused of attempting to bribe Zuma for his protection from a potentially devastating arms deal inquiry, Thint, will also be able to object to the trial date during that hearing.

In court documents before South African and Mauritian courts, Zuma has maintained that was the focus of a plot by forces in his party and the government aimed at stopping him from becoming the next president. But, despite the anticipation of a heated showdown between lawyers for Zuma and this prosecutors over dates for his trial, yesterday's hearings ended without either uttering a word in court.

Shortly before 11am yesterday, the opposing legal teams walked out of Judge Chris Nicholson's chambers, collected their suitcases and documents from Court A and left.

Zuma's legal team did not address the media and have yet to publicly comment on the State's mooted trial date.

But it has been learnt that Zuma's lawyers are unhappy that the NPA made "arrogant" proposals about the future running of his trial - at the same time that Zuma was waiting for a September 12 ruling on whether his prosecution was invalid.

The trial dates settlement deal, signed by Scorpions prosecutor Billy Downer and Zuma's lawyer Michael Hulley, sets out dates for the hearing of Zuma and Thint's applications for a permanent stay of prosecution. These will be heard, respectively, on November 27-28 and November 25.

With acknowledgements to Karyn Maughan and Pretoria News.