- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa

African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma suffered a legal defeat Monday that could force him to divide his time between a corruption trial and a presidential campaign.

South Africa’s second-highest court cleared the way for a new corruption trial for Mr. Zuma, overturning a lower court’s decision to throw out the case. Supreme Court Judge Louis Harms said the original ruling was riddled with errors and ignored basic legal standards.

Prosecutors said they will seek a new trial date, while the ANC insisted Mr. Zuma remains its presidential candidate.

The ruling comes just two days after Mr. Zuma was cheered like a rock star at a rally, which drew tens of thousands and launched the governing party’s campaign for elections expected in March or April.

The ANC presents Mr. Zuma as the face of its shift to a more populist style, and dismisses the charges against him as a plot by rivals led by former President Thabo Mbeki.

The ANC, which has dominated all three votes since white rule ended in 1994, is expected to do well this year as well, even with the cloud over Mr. Zuma and a new challenge from Mbeki supporters who broke away to form their own party late last year.

Mr. Zuma’s camp is worried, though, that the presidency could be decided in courtrooms.

In a scathing opinion, Judge Harms took the unusual step of reading the original ruling that he said was riddled with errors. That original ruling helped lead to the ouster of Mr. Mbeki as South Africa’s president in September.

Mr. Zuma did not attend the hearing in central Bloemfontein, the legal capital. Instead, a senior ANC leader, Mathole Motshekga, sat with Mr. Zuma’s attorneys as the judgment was read and later said Mr. Zuma would likely take the matter to the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Court.

Mr. Zuma cannot be president if he is convicted, but he can run for the president while he faces charges.

Prosecutors said they would seek a date for Mr. Zuma to stand trial. Tlali Tlali, the spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said the existing charges would stand - corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering relating to a multibillion-dollar government arms deal in the late 1990s.

Mr. Mbeki fired Mr. Zuma as vice president when the charges emerged in 2005.

Mr. Zuma is accused of accepting bribes to thwart a probe into wrongdoing by a French arms company. Mr. Zuma was charged in 2005, but that case was dismissed on a technicality in 2006. He was charged again in December 2007, just days after besting Mr. Mbeki to be elected ANC president.

High Court Judge Chris Nicholson dismissed the case in September, implying the charges were the result of political meddling by Mr. Mbeki.

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