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In South Africa, Former Zuma Adviser Released from Prison Early

In South Africa, the former financial adviser to ANC ruling party president Jacob Zuma has been released from prison. Shabir Shaik has served less than two and a half years of a 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption.

VOA correspondent Scott Bobb, Johannesburg, says, "According to corrections officials, he was released on medical parole, which is a release granted prisoner who are terminally ill. He has been in the hospital for most of his sentence complaining of high blood pressure, chest pains and other ailments. So the decision was made that he is severely ill and should be sent home and he went home Tuesday morning on a stretcher."

A controversial arms deal was at the heart of Shaik's conviction. Bobb says, "Basically he was found guilty of trying to solicit a half a million rand…bribe, which at today's rate of exchange is about $50,000, for then deputy president Jacob Zuma, who is now the ANC's candidate for president in elections next month."

Shaik's conviction had a direct effect on Jacob Zuma's career. "First of all, his close association with Mr. Zuma led to Mr. Zuma being sacked as deputy president. And he has been spending the subsequent time defending himself in various courts on other fraud and corruption charges. But these charges stemmed largely from the successful conviction of Shabir Shaik," says Bobb.

Asked whether Shaik might testify at Zuma's corruption trial, currently set for August, Bobb says, "I haven't seen much on that because he probably would be seen as discredited as a witness. But what this has done is cause a storm of controversy because the opposition parties and many critics believe that Shabir Shaik was not terminally ill. Normally, prisoners are released when they are about to die and this is a humanitarian gesture to let them go home and be with their families in their last days. But the feeling is that Shabir, who has spent most of his prison term in the hospital, has basically been seeking to avoid the harsh realities of prison life. And, of course, time will tell whether or not he is terminally ill, but this has created a lot of criticism, which, of course, his defenders are countering."