Day three of court proceedings in the case of former president Jacob Zuma and co-accused French arms company, Thales, ended with drama at the Pietermaritzburg division of the the KwaZulu-Natal High Court on Thursday afternoon.
This after Zuma’s defence team waited until the last minute to play their trump card before the full bench of judges.
In his dramatic closing submissions, Zuma’s senior counsel Muzi Sikhakhane tore through the submissions made by the state and seized the moment to attempt to introduce new evidence in the form of a letter, which he argued proves political interference in Zuma’s charges.
It remained unclear whether the letter legitimised prior claims made by his client in 2015, when he effectively accused his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, of blackmailing him and dangling a R20 million bribe in his face in an attempt at getting him to quit politics back in 2003.
Read: Trengove: Zuma flourished during time of delayed prosecution
“Blame everything on one person,” started Sikhakhane, in reference to the state, which according to him, was laying the blame for the over 14-year delay in the prosecution of this case on his client.
“This is what the state has been attempting to do without success,” he went on.
“[State advocate Wim Trengove] asks the court to disregard the spy tapes and then argues that the NPA’s conduct was justifiable. [Former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka] himself describes his own actions as ‘not normal’ yet Mr Trengove comes here and sanitises it as unusual but not uncommon practice,” argued Sikhakhane.
Zuma’s senior counsel went for the jugular, criticising the state’s case: “It’s disingenuous for the state to keep referring to the millions of taxpayers’ money that have been spent on Zuma and refuses to give the defence figures on how much it has cost the state to itself bring nine lawyers.”
Smelling blood, Sikhakhane then took the opportunity to argue that the state had been “afforded the opportunity to include new evidence” while Trengove was making submissions and requested that he also be given the chance to submit the contentious letter which proves his client’s allegations that he met with Mbeki and former justice minister Penuell Maduna.
“May I be allowed to read this letter into the record,” he compelled the judges, adding that “the NPA had this document and has not handed it to us”.
Trengove jumped in objection and quickly clarified that he was never afforded any opportunity to make additional submissions but merely set the record straight on a matter of whether a certain witness was still alive or had since passed on.
“The document I am about to read demonstrates that in March 2018, the NPA was asking about an investigation into bribes and the meeting between Penuell Maduna and Thabo Mbeki,” continued Sikhakhane.
The full bench of judges requested a recess of five minutes and when they came back asked the state if they objected to the defence making the new submission.
Trengove agreed and the matter was set down to Friday at 9am, at which point the judges are expected to make a ruling on whether this new evidence was admissible.
It was reported in 2015 that Zuma in his formal response to the Democratic Alliance’s North Gauteng High Court bid to have the arms deal corruption charges against him reinstated, made the claim that he had met with Mbeki and Maduna who attempted to influence him to leave politics.
The affidavit allegedly drafted on Zuma’s behalf by his then attorney, Michael Hulley, detailed that Mbeki and Maduna asked Zuma to resign and effectively retire from the political scene, indicating that there was a formidable case against him in the NPA files.
The affidavit alleged that once this attempt had failed the pair resorted to offering Zuma a R20 million retirement package which he did not take, going on to challenge Mbeki at the ANC’s 52nd national conference in Polokwane and emerging as the ANC leader and later the country’s president.
It is still not clear who authored the letter and how the defence came to be in its possession.