- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (AP) — A South African court cleared the way Monday for a new corruption trial against African National Congress leader and presidential hopeful Jacob Zuma — a ruling that a top ANC official denounced as politically motivated.

The Supreme Court of Appeal overturned a lower court’s decision to throw out the case against Zuma. Supreme Court judge Louis Harms said the original ruling was riddled with errors and ignored basic legal standards.

The National Prosecuting Authority said it would now seek a date for Zuma to stand trial. Spokesman Tlali Tlali said the existing charges would stand — corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering relating to a multibillion-rand government arms deal in the late 1990s.

“Mr. Zuma is regarded as a charged person,” Tlali said.

Tlali also welcomed the scathing criticism in Monday’s ruling of the lower court judge for speculating that the charges against Zuma could have been politically motivated.

The judgment comes just two days after Zuma launched the ANC’s manifesto for elections to be held in March or April. The ANC is expected to win a majority and says it wants Zuma to be president despite the corruption cloud that has hung over him for nearly a decade.

“The ANC reiterates its position that the judgment will not affect the decision of the ANC that Zuma be the ANC’s presidential candidate for the 2009 elections,” the party said in a statement after the televised hour-long ruling.

Zuma did not attend Monday’s court hearing in the central South African city of Bloemfontein. Instead, a senior ANC leader, Mathole Motshekga, sat with Zuma’s lawyers as the judgment was read and later said Zuma would likely now take the matter to the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Court.

“His constitutional rights were violated and that’s a matter that should be considered by a higher court,” Motshekga told The Associated Press. Then, addressing several hundred ANC supporters gathered near the courthouse, he called Monday’s judgment “a continuation of that political agenda we have complained about.”

Zuma’s supporters in the ANC have long complained the case was part of machinations by former President Thabo Mbeki to keep Zuma from succeeding him as president. In his ruling Monday, Harms said even if the motivation was in part political — and he stressed he had no evidence to determine that — it did not mean the charges were legally illegitimate.

Zuma was initially charged in 2005, but that case was dismissed on a technicality in 2006. He was recharged in December 2007, just days after being elected ANC president.

Harms was scathing about lower court judge Chris Nicholson, who in September dismissed the case against Zuma. Nicholson said Zuma should have been consulted before he was charged in December 2007 and implied that the charges were the result of political meddling by Zuma’s rival, Mbeki.

Nicholson’s ruling led quickly to the ANC’s ouster of Mbeki as president of South Africa.

Harms likened Nicholson to a referee who “took his eye off the ball” and red-carded not only players but also spectators — meaning Mbeki. He awarded full costs to the National Prosecuting Authority, which appealed Nicholson’s decision.

Nicholson’s ruling “relied on incorrect principles and had the facts wrong,” Harms said.

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