Thales loses bid to challenge fraud charges over S.Africa arms deal
A South African court on Friday dismissed a bid by French aerospace and arms company Thales to challenge racketeering charges linked to a 1999 deal with ex-president Jacob Zuma, paving the way for a decade-old corruption trial to start next month.
South African court on Friday dismissed a bid by French aerospace and arms company Thales to challenge racketeering charges linked to a 1999 deal with ex-president Jacob Zuma, paving the way for a decade-old corruption trial to start next month.
Zuma, in power from 2009 to 2018, faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment from Thales when he was deputy president.
The embattled ex-leader allegedly pocketed four million rand ($265,000 / 218,000 euros) in bribes over a $3.4-billion arms deal with the French aerospace and defence giant.
Last year, Thales filed an application to challenge a charge of racketeering over lack of evidence.
But a provincial high court dismissed the challenge on Friday, enabling the scheduled resumption of hearings on February 23, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said.
“The NPA welcomes the decision… to dismiss the application of the French arms company Thales, challenging racketeering charges against it,” NPA spokesman Sipho Ngwema said in a WhatsApp statement.
“We look forward to the criminal hearing.”
Thales South Africa told AFP it had “noted” the high court’s decision and was “studying the judgement to consider its legal options” and “possible further steps”.
The company added in an emailed response that it would “defend all charges at the trial, scheduled to start in 2021”.
Thales also faces corruption and money-laundering charges over the arms deal.
Both Zuma and Thales — represented by Oscar Pistorius’ former defence advocate Barry Roux — have denied any wrongdoing.
The trial was postponed four times last year for an array of legal and coronavirus-related reasons.
Zuma, 78, was forced to step down in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress after a nine-year reign marked by dwindling popularity and alleged state graft.
He has resisted several calls to testify before a judicial panel hearing testimonies about corruption under his regime, making only one brief appearance for questioning in 2019.