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South African Leader Downplays Corruption Charges

The head of South Africa's ruling political party is in Washington for talks with officials and business leaders, months ahead of a presidential election he is widely expected to win. However, a South African court ruling on Wednesday raised the prospect that Jacob Zuma could again face recently dismissed corruption charges. VOA's Robert Daguillard reports from Washington.

Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa's ruling African National Congress party, or ANC, was not eager on Wednesday to react to the latest developments related to recently dismissed corruption allegations against him. "You know, I'm here. I'm not in South Africa. How do I comment on something I don't even know how it did go? Why don't you call my lawyer who is there? I'm just here. You ask me to comment when I don't know the details of how the judgment has been?," he said.

Zuma, who analysts expect to be elected President of South Africa next year, spoke to a group of business leaders in Washington, only hours after the judge who dismissed the graft allegations against him last month allowed the prosecution to appeal the ruling.

ANC Treasurer General Mathews Phosa, who traveled to Washington with Zuma, says the ruling party leadership is not worried about the decision by Judge Chris Nicholson. "We will abide by the voice of the judge and engage at the next level of the judiciary, where there should be engagement, which is appeals court. So we do look forward to that engagement. The fact of the matter is there are no charges against the president now."

In last month's ruling, Judge Nicholson said prosecutors failed to listen to legal arguments by Zuma before deciding whether to prosecute him.

Then-South African President Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma as Deputy President in 2005 after Zuma's former financial advisor was convicted on graft charges. Later that year, prosecutors charged Zuma and two subsidiaries of the French arms company Thales with corruption.

Among other charges, the financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was accused of negotiating a deal with the two arms companies to pay Zuma yearly bribes -- to deflect probes into a 1999 arms deal with the South African government.

Zuma and his supporters have denied the charges.

Last month, the ANC forced Mbeki's resignation, saying it was necessary for party unity. However, some observers say Mbeki's departure was the climax of a long and bitter battle with Zuma, whose supporters called the charges against him politically motivated.