DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) – Former South African President Jacob Zuma, who was ousted by his own party in February, appeared at the Durban High Court on Friday for the second time on corruption charges relating to a $2.5 billion arms deal in the late 1990s.
Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to the deal to buy European military hardware to upgrade South Africa’s armed forces after the end of apartheid in 1994.
State prosecutors and Zuma’s lawyers presented arguments over a start date for the trial, a rare example of an African leader being held to account for his actions.
Judge Mjabuliseni Madondo adjourned the case to July 27 for the state and the defence to indicate whether they can commence the case. The matter will be heard in the nearby city of Pietermaritzburg to allow for renovations at the Durban court.
“There are still some applications to be launched,” he said, adding that it was still too early to say when a trial could start. Lawyers for the state said they were still ready for a trial to start in November.
Zuma, clad in a dark suit and red tie, shook hands and laughed with his supporters as he left the court. Outside, hundreds of supporters sang his name and waved placards.
The national prosecutor this week turned down a request by the 76-year-old to delay Friday’s hearing pending the outcome of a separate legal challenge over the state paying his legal fees.
The speed with which prosecutors have moved against Zuma is a sign of his waning influence since he was replaced as head of state by Cyril Ramaphosa, his former deputy, four months ago.
Ramaphosa has made the fight against corruption a top priority as he seeks to woo foreign investment and revamp an ailing economy.
Zuma’s supporters say the former president, whose nine years in power were marked by economic stagnation and credit rating downgrades, is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.
Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Alexander Winning; Editing by James Macharia