South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority [NPA] has decided to drop it case against Jacob Zuma after it discovered its former chief investigator manipulated the legal process.   The decision means Zuma, who is likely to be the country's next president, will not have to answer fraud, corruption or racketeering charges in court.

Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe announced his decision at a well-attended media conference in Pretoria.

"In the light of the above, I have come to the difficult conclusion, that it is neither possible nor desirable for the NPA to continue with the prosecution of Mr. Zuma," said Mpshe.

Mpshe told the media that Leonard McCarthy, his former deputy and head of the Directorate of Special Operations [DSO], had manipulated the legal process for what he called collateral and illicit purposes.

"The fact that Mr. McCarthy who was head of the DSO and was in charge of the matter at all times and managed it almost on a daily basis manipulated the legal process for purposes outside and extraneous to the prosecution itself," said Mpshe.  "It is not so much prosecution itself that is tainted, but the process that is tainted."

Zuma defense team had given the NPA a number of recordings of McCarthy speaking to Mpshe's predecessor, Bulelani Ngcuka who is known to be close to former President Thabo Mbeki.  The calls were made around the time of the ruling African National Congress national conference at which Zuma was elected president of the party.

The discussions appeared to revolve around whether to charge Zuma before or after the conference and Mpshe says McCarthy makes it clear he was following instructions.

"I quote Leonard McCarthy, 'I did what you said I should do.'  'I must say,' [said] Bulelani [Ngcuka], 'you did the right thing.'  And I want you to remember that at this time Bulelani [Ngcuka] was no more in the employ of the NPA," Mpshe read from a transcript.

Mpshe made it clear that the merits of the case had not been tainted, but said the fact the process was manipulated, makes prosecution impossible.  

The decision to halt the prosecution has already drawn widespread criticism from opposition parties who have called it shameful, irrational and unlawful.  One party, the Democratic Alliance, says it will seek legal advice on whether to bring a private prosecution against Zuma.  

Steven Friedman of the Institute for Democracy says the credibility of the National Prosecuting Authority has been severely tarnished.

"And I think are very legitimate questions of whether the people who are currently in charge of the NPA, can really be the people who restore the credibility of the NPA," said Friedman.

The recordings handed to the NPA were made by the National Intelligence Agency and Mpshe says the agency assured him they were legal.  How they came into the possession of Zuma's lawyers was not explained.  Mpshe says he will be referring the case to the agency's Inspector General.  

Friedman says there have been several cases of the intelligence agencies being used for political purposes.  He says this has become a great threat to South Africa.

"I think the greater threat is political manipulation of the intelligence agencies, and there is only one solution to that, which is oversight by parliament and the media and full disclosure," added Friedman.

The ANC has welcomed the decision of the NPA saying it is clear the prosecution of Zuma was an attempted judicial lynching.