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Corruption Trial of ANC Leader Set to Begin in S. Africa

The long anticipated trial of African National Congress president Jacob Zuma on charges ranging from corruption to racketeering will get under way next week in KwaZulu Natal. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg the trial will open with an application by Zuma for a permanent stay of prosecution.

Three years after Jacob Zuma was formally charged with two charges of corruption flowing out of the conviction of his legal advisor on similar charges, his trial will get under way. However, he will now face 16 charges ranging from corruption to racketeering to money laundering.

The case flows from the conviction in 2005 of Zuma's former financial advisor of corruption and fraud. Shabir Shaik, the financial advisor, was convicted of soliciting an annual bribe of $67,000 for Zuma, from a French arms company as protection against graft charges in South Africa's military refurbishment program. He was also convicted of paying Zuma $200,000 to advance Shaik's business interests.

At the time he was originally charged Zuma said he hoped for a speedy trial. However, in the intervening period he has launched dozens of court bids to halt the case or to prevent prosecutors from using evidence they have gathered. So far, five judges have ruled in his favor; but 31 judges decided against him.

The latest such ruling came Thursday from the Constitutional Court, the final arbiter in cases involving constitutional matters and citizens' rights under the constitution. Zuma had asked the court to rule that the seizure of some 93,000 documents by the National Prosecuting Authority from him and his legal advisors was unconstitutional because investigators had violated his rights in the search and seizure operations and that the warrants were inappropriately approved by a senior judge.

In a 9-1 decision read by Chief Justice Pius Langa, the court dismissed Zuma's application.

"The terms of the warrants were neither over-broad nor unduly vague and were therefore intelligible as the law required," he said. "This court held that it was not an unjustifiable infringement of Mr. Zuma's dignity."

The Chief Justice upheld the right of appeal in such matters, but warned that all courts should discourage litigation prior to criminal trials that appears to have no purpose other than to delay the commencement of those trials.

When the trial opens Monday, Zuma's lawyers will file an application for a permanent stay of prosecution, arguing once again that his rights have been violated. If that application succeeds, Zuma will leave court knowing that it will be unlikely that he will ever face in court, the charges against him. If his application fails, the trial will commence and Zuma will get his chance to answer those charges.