Zuma’s bid to get state to pay his legal fees rejected

By S’thembile Cele

(Bloomberg) – South Africa’s second-highest court rejected an appeal by Jacob Zuma aimed at getting the state to pay his costs in a graft case, the latest in a string of legal defeats for the former president.

Zuma, who ruled the country for almost nine scandal-marred years, stands accused of taking bribes from arms dealers in the 1990s and is due to go on trial on May 17. The corruption case relates to actions the ex-president undertook in his personal capacity and the state shouldn’t be liable for his legal fees, the Supreme Court of Appeal said in a judgment handed down on Tuesday that upheld a lower court’s ruling.

“The SCA took the view that to have granted Mr Zuma, who has been significantly enriched by the payments, a blank check to pay private lawyers is egregious,” the court said in a summary of its judgment. “A web of maladministration appears to have made that possible.”

Zuma, who was ordered to pay the state’s costs, was first charged with graft in 2005 when he was deputy president and reached a deal with the State Attorney whereby the government would pay private lawyers to defend him.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in February 2018, told lawmakers that year that the matter had cost taxpayers R15m ($1m). Zuma committed to repaying the money if he was found to have acted in his personal capacity.

The Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest legislative body, is separately deciding whether to jail Zuma for defying its order to testify before a judicial panel that’s probing corruption during his nine-year tenure.

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