Its back to court for Zuma in April as he’s denied “special plea” to remove Downer

FORMER PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma has been denied leave to appeal the dismissal of his “special plea” to remove lead prosecutor advocate Billy Downer from his corruption trial.

Pietermaritzburg high court judge Piet Koen on Wednesday ruled the trial must proceed, as agreed to by all parties, on April 11 this year.

Koen handed down a summary of his findings in which he dismissed all of Zuma’s eight “category of issues” he had raised in an attempt to persuade the judge to grant him leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

In dismissing every one of them, he described some as “factually incorrect, unfounded and opportunistic”. 

In an attempt by Zuma to belatedly seek a “special entry of an irregularity or illegality” in the trial, Koen said none had been identified with the required clarity.

“In as far as possible that they can be discerned, they are, with respect, frivolous, absurd and an abuse of the court process,” he said.

Zuma was previously excused from attending Wednesday’s proceedings. 

Koen warned his legal representatives to ensure he was present on April 11 when the trial starts.

After pleading not guilty to charges of fraud, corruption and money-laundering relating to the multibillion-rand arms deal, Zuma entered the “special plea” in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act in which he challenged Downer’s “title to prosecute”, alleging he was biased. He accused Downer of misconduct and said he would not get a fair trial.

Koen ruled last year that in terms of settled case law, “title” only referred to a prosecutor’s standing, authority and authorisation and did not, as proposed by Zuma’s lawyers, have a wider interpretation. It was this ruling Zuma wanted to take on appeal to the SCA.

However, Koen said he had no prospects of success and further litigation on the issue, before his standing trial and being either convicted or acquitted, would not be in the interests of justice.

“A speedy trial and finality in litigation remain vital constitutional imperatives. An appeal should not be entertained at this stage,” he said.

Zuma and his co-accused, French arms company Thales, have both pleaded not guilty to racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud charges relating to the arms deal.

Zuma is accused of receiving about R4m via his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik to assist Thales to secure defence contracts. Shaik was convicted in 2005 but was released on medical parole in 2009.

Image (Former Pres JG Zuma denied leave to appeal at today’s Pietermaritzburg High Court).

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