PRETORIA (Reuters) - South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and state prosecutors on Friday sought the right to appeal against a High Court ruling to review a decision to drop 783 corruption charges against the head of state.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) set aside the charges against Zuma in April 2009, allowing him to run for president the same month.
But the High Court last April ordered a review of that decision, terming it “irrational”, a ruling that opened the possibility of the charges being reinstated.
The case has re-emerged before local government elections set for August where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) faces a challenge from opposition parties that have used Zuma’s perceived failures and scandals in their campaigns.
The state is appealing the ruling on the grounds that the law gives prosecutors the discretion to decide when to lay charges and that the order for a review could dilute the NPA’s powers.
“The court went too far in saying that Mr. Zuma should face the charges in the indictment,” NPA lawyer Hilton Epstein told the court on Friday.
But David Borgstrom, a lawyer for the opposition Democratic Alliance which initiated the original court application, said the judgment for a review should stand.
High court judge Aubrey Ledwaba said he would rule on the matter at a later date.
The NPA’s decision in 2009 was based on phone intercepts presented by Zuma’s legal team that suggested the timing of the charges may have been part of a political plot against him.
Zuma’s office said the High Court had made a mistake in ruling that the public prosecutor was not entitled to terminate a prosecution on the basis of misconduct and abuse of the process.
Should the appeal fail and the charges be reinstated, it would be another political setback for Zuma after the Constitutional Court said in March he had erred by ignoring an order to pay back some of the 240 million rand ($16 million) in state money spent on upgrading his private home.
The hundreds of corruption charges relate to a major government arms deal arranged in the late 1990s. DA leader Mmusi Maimane said on Friday any further delays in bringing back the charges were a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“I think it’s an abuse of the system. It has taken us seven years to get here. It’s time Jacob Zuma has his day in court,” Maimane told journalists after Friday’s hearing.
Additional reporting by Pete Vernon; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Robin Pomeroy