Expatica news

Zuma graft hearing postponed to June due to coronavirus

A corruption trial involving South African former president Jacob Zuma, due to resume this week, has been postponed to June because of the coronavirus outbreak, the state prosecutor said Monday.

Zuma is alleged to have taken bribes of four million rand (around $214,000) related to a $3.4 billion arms deal with French aerospace and defence giant Thales in 1999, when he was deputy president.

He was scheduled to appear in court to answer the corruption charges on May 6.

But the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Monday announced that the matter had been “postponed in absentia” to June 23.

“This is due to the COVID-19 lockdown travel and court appearance restrictions,” the NPA said in an emailed statement.

South Africa shuttered its borders shortly after detecting its first case of COVID-19 in March.

The country is gradually easing a strict five-week nationwide lockdown meant to halt the spread of coronavirus, which has infected over 6,700 people and killed at least 131.

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment.

He was forced to step down in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) after a nine-year reign marked by corruption allegations and dwindling popularity.

In February, the 78-year-old ex-president was slapped with an arrest warrant after he failed to appear in a high court for a pre-trial hearing while he was undergoing medical treatment in Cuba.

Zuma had recently abandoned several attempts to halt the looming corruption trial, claiming his “innocence (would be) demonstrated for all to see”.