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Zuma trial: NPA says private prosecution of Downer is intimidation

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The decision by former president Jacob Zuma to privately prosecute the NPA’s top prosecutor, advocate Billy Downer SC, in the near future has been met with resistance by the prosecuting authority.

Former president Jacob Zuma in the dock. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)

THE DECISION by former president Jacob Zuma to privately prosecute the NPA’s top prosecutor, advocate Billy Downer SC, in the near future has been met with resistance by the prosecuting authority.

On Sunday, the Jacob Zuma Foundation, whose patron is the ex-head of state, announced that the NPA’s decision was irrational, hence the route to initiate this lengthy and often complicated legal process.

Zuma and Downer have been locked in a bitter legal battle for years now. The ex-president wants the latter to be removed as the lead prosecutor from his corruption trial, alleging that he compromised himself by leaking sensitive information about Zuma’s corruption trial and health to CIA spies and journalists.

His many applications to have the removal certified by the courts have failed. Recently, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed without a hearing his attempt to appeal a dismissal of such a matter by Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen.

The Bloemfontein-based Supreme Court said the application had no prospects of success, even if Zuma’s lawyers were given an audience to argue it.

But the forever legally combative and politically unyielding Zuma is not giving up the fight yet. He now wants the NPA to grant him a certificate of non-prosecution so that he can take the private prosecution avenue against Downer.

“In his response, his excellency president Zuma will remind the court that he has long anticipated that the NPA would refuse to prosecute one of their own even after his recent retirement,” the foundation said on Sunday.

“He, therefore, informed the court in his previous affidavits that he had instructed his legal team to institute private prosecution proceedings against advocate Downer with immediate effect, subject to all the required administrative protocols as soon as the NPA announced its expected biased decision.

“That instruction will now be put into operation in the next few days,” the foundation said.

The foundation also assured the nation that Zuma will not boycott Monday’s hearing and he will present himself to the court as instructed in the last sitting where his attempt to be granted leave to appeal fell flat.

The NPA is unfazed by this. Its spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, said the NPA still stands by their conviction that Zuma’s case should go ahead and they will fight tooth and nail to thwart attempts to halt it.

“As the prosecuting authority, we are ready to proceed with the trial tomorrow when it resumes. We have always been ready, our witnesses are lined up to testify against the two accused and we will oppose any application for the postponement of the matter, because it is not in the best interests of anyone for the matter to be delayed further.

“With regard to the possible private prosecution of Mr Downer, our lead prosecutor, this we regard as an intimidation and a delaying tactic on the part of Mr Zuma’s lawyers because they know very well that those charges will never be sustained, hence the director of public prosecution in KwaZulu-Natal has declined to prosecute, and the DPP refused to accede to their demand of removal of Mr Downer,” Mhaga said on Sunday.

With the private prosecution of Downer on the cards and fears mounting that the case could once again be delayed, legal expert Mpumelelo Zikalala said there is no way the mooted application by Zuma will impact the case.

He said the only impediment that can halt the hearing on Monday is health on the part of the former president.

“He (Zuma) can apply for a postponement of the trial but I doubt it will succeed, because these are two separate processes (the corruption trial and private prosecution) … The court will reject it. To initiate a private prosecution you need first have a certificate and then you can proceed,” Zikalala said, adding that it is likely that the corruption trial will go ahead as planned on Monday.

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