Zuma faces 800 graft charges: Court

A SHOT IN THE ARM: South Africa’s main opposition party Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane talks to journalists following the High court’s ruling on the decision that corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma could be reinstated, on Friday, in Pretoria. (AFP)
Updated 30 April 2016
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Zuma faces 800 graft charges: Court

PRETORIA: South African President Jacob Zuma should face almost 800 corruption charges that were dropped in 2009, a judge said Friday, piling further pressure on the embattled leader.
The charges, relating to a multi-billion dollar arms deal, were dropped by the chief state prosecutor in a move that cleared the way for Zuma to be elected president just weeks later.
“The decision... to discontinue the charges against Mr.Zuma is irrational and should be reviewed and set aside,” Pretoria High Court judge Aubrey Ledwaba said.
“Mr Zuma should face the charges as applied.”
The prosecutor had justified dropping the charges by saying that tapped phone calls between senior officials in then-president Thabo Mbeki’s administration showed political interference in the case.
The recordings, which became known as the “spy tapes,” were kept secret but finally released in 2014 to the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), after a five-year legal battle.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said Friday’s court ruling was a major blow against the president, who has faced months of criticism over various corruption scandals and the country’s dire economic outlook.
“Today is a great victory for the rule of law. Ultimately Jacob Zuma must face prosecution,” Maimane said after attending the court hearing.
“We are deeply, deeply delighted. Jacob Zuma must have... his day in court.” The DA called for the National Prosecuting Authority to immediately revive the 783 charges of corruption, racketeering, fraud and money laundering dating back to 1999.
But the legal wrangling is set to continue, with the ruling likely to go to appeal.
“These charges were formally withdrawn... and as such there is no pending litigation before court against President Zuma,” the presidency said in a statement.
“The President has noted the decision of the court and will give consideration to the judgment and its consequences.”
The president last month lost another major legal case when the country’s highest court found he violated the constitution over the use of public funds to upgrade his private residence.
The so-called “security” work, which cost taxpayers $24 million, included a swimming pool, chicken run, cattle enclosure and an amphitheater.
The DA and other opposition parties attempted to impeach him, but the ruling African National Congress (ANC) used its majority to easily defeat the motion in parliament.
Zuma has also been beset by allegations that a wealthy Indian migrant family had such influence over him that it could decide ministerial appointments.
Pressure on the president to be ousted or to resign has grown with several veteran leaders of the party that brought Nelson Mandela to power in 1994 calling for him to step down.
Zuma, 74, will have completed two terms in 2019 and is not eligible to run for president again, but the ANC, which is packed with his loyalists, could replace him ahead of the next general election.
Last week, a commission he set up cleared all government officials of corruption over the 1999 arms deal.
Zuma himself was accused of having accepted bribes from international arms manufacturers.
His adviser, Schabir Shaik, was jailed for 15 years on related charges in 2005, with the judge saying there was “overwhelming” evidence of a corrupt relationship between the two.
Shaik was released on medical parole in 2009, the year Zuma was elected president.
Opposition parties hope to gain ground against the all-powerful ANC at local elections on August 3.
“The judgment may not necessarily force the president to resign,” Shadrack Gutto, director for the Center for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa, told AFP.
“He will try to maneuver through the legal processes and so on, but it could have serious implications for the ruling party as we go to elections.”
Zuma’s competency was also questioned when he sacked two finance ministers within days in December, triggering a collapse in the rand and a major withdrawal of foreign investment.


Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

Updated 8 min 52 sec ago
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Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

  • Three resign to join independent group in parliament
  • Blow to PM May in efforts to clinch deal on exit from EU

LONDON: Three lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservatives quit over the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to unite her party around plans to leave the European Union.
The lawmakers, who support a second EU referendum and have long said May’s Brexit strategy is being led by Conservative euroskeptics, said they would join a new independent group in parliament set up by seven former opposition Labour politicians.
The resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament, where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when both euroskeptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement they say offers the worst of all worlds.
While the three were almost certain to vote against any deal, the hardening of their positions undermines May’s negotiating position in Brussels, where she heads later to try to secure an opening for further work on revising the agreement.
With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a decades-old two-party system.
“The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit,” the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, said in a letter to May.
Soubry later told a news conference that the Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing, pro-Brexit lawmakers.
“The truth is, the battle is over and the other side has won. The right-wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every (Conservative) leader for the last 40 years are now running the ... party from top to toe,” she said.
May said she was saddened by the decision and that Britain’s membership of the EU “has been a source of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time.”
“But by ... implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country,” she said, referring to the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted by a margin of 52-48 percent in favor of leaving the EU.
Asked what May would say to others considering resigning, her spokesman said: “She would, as she always has, ask for the support of her colleagues in delivering (Brexit).”

INDEPENDENT GROUP
The three sat in parliament on Wednesday with a new grouping which broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit strategy and a row over anti-Semitism.
Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and several politicians from both the main opposition party and Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of parliament.
What unites most of the group of 11 is a desire to see a second referendum on any deal May comes back with, now that the terms of Brexit are known in detail — something the prime minister has ruled out.
For May’s Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another knock to more than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote, which she ultimately won.
Britain’s 2016 EU referendum has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.
May has faced a difficult balancing act. Euroskeptic members of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.
Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far toward Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but impossible to negotiate.
But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team will get the green light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern Irish backstop arrangement.
The “backstop,” an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if London and Brussels fail to agree a deal on future ties, is the main point of contention in talks with Brussels.
British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU’s sphere to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.
But May’s argument she can command a majority in parliament if the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker. A government defeat last week showed the euroskeptics’ muscle.
One pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Andrew Bridgen, said: “I would find it very difficult to accept a legal document from the same (party) lawyer whose definitive advice four weeks ago was that we could be trapped in the backstop in perpetuity.”