AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER
FORMER South African President Jacob Zuma’s special plea to have Advocate Billy Downer removed as prosecutor in his arms deal trial has been dismissed by the High Court in Maritzburg.
Judge Piet Koen found that Zuma’s argument that Downer was unfit to lead the prosecution against him was without merit. He ordered that the trial in which Zuma is charged with fraud racketeering and money laundering should proceed. Zuma is charged along with arms manufacturer Thales.
The Judge said the 14 grounds forwarded by Zuma’s legal team for Downer’s removal was speculative and based on hearsay evidence.
In a separate matter, Zuma has laid criminal charges against Downer, for allegedly sharing his confidential medical records.
Judge Koen’s decision came after a fierce legal battle royale between Zuma’s lawyers and representatives of Downer.
Zuma, in his motivation, had asked for the Downer and the entire National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) thrown off the case, a move which would have effectively handed the ex-head of state an acquittal without trial.
Two advocates representing Zuma – Advocate Dali Mpofu and Advocate Thabani Zulu – took turns in the Maritzburg High Court to make a case that Downer and the entire NPA were not fit to try Zuma. Their arguments were made in a trial-within-a-trial during which the court is hearing a special appeal from Zuma to have the entire prosecuting team thrown out.
The basis of their arguments was Zuma’s affidavit, filed in support of his special plea.
In parts of it, Zuma argued: “I am demanding that I should be acquitted on the basis that the State has lost the constitutional legitimacy to present evidence against me.
“The failure of the NPA to safeguard the integrity of its own prosecution and investigative processes involving me justifies an order of acquittal – for there is no legal basis on which Downer and the NPA should be allowed to present evidence against me in a criminal trial.”
The former president argued that the conduct of lead prosecutor Billy Downer disqualifies him from being able to try him for corruption. “He cannot be handed the responsibility of presenting evidence against me in a lawful credible trial. No one under him can do so,” Zuma said.
Zuma, who was recently granted medical parole that enables him to serve the rest of his sentence from home, was not in court.
Mpofu accused Downer of being not performing his role as a prosecutor dispassionately because he shed tears when he heard the so-called Spy Tapes recordings, in which then Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and then National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka discussed the timing when charges should be preferred against Zuma.
Advocate Wim Trengrove, for the state, mounted a strong defence for Downer, slamming Zuma’s lawyers for attacks which he said were defined by insult and hyperbole. He said Downer should be given a medal for standing up for justice, truth and for standing up to his bosses.
Trengrove argued that the right to prosecute was constitutionally entrenched and said it was wrong of Zuma’s lawyers to say that the NPA does not have the title to prosecute him. He said Zuma was using his special plea to ensure that no one in the NPA can try him.
then attacked the main points raised by Mpofu and Zulu.
Trengrove rejected Zuma’s argument that Downer had violated ethics when he gave evidence in support of a challenge by the Democratic Alliance to then National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Mokotedi Mpshe to drop charges against Zuma.
He also argued that there was no evidence that Downer had leaked confidential information about the prosecution of the former head of state to the media.
On Mpofu’s accusations that Downer leaked Zuma’s health records to the media, Trengrove said the letter in question, which had confidential medication information, was part of court papers and therefore part of public record.
Trengrove said Zuma had rehashed some of his fair trial complaints, which had failed in other courts, as part of his special plea. “Same old,” he said.”Same old.”