The corruption trial of former South African president Jacob Zuma, which was supposed to begin on Monday, has been postponed to May 26 by a South African court.
The trial has been pushed back several times and relates to a graft case that transpired more than 20 years ago.
The court in Pietermaritzburg is examining 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand — equal to almost $5.0 billion at the time.
What is Zuma accused of?
The case centres on an arms deal with French arms company Thales.
Zuma is accused of having pocketed more than four million rand (or $285,000 at the current rate) from Thales, which was one of the companies awarded the juicy contract with a global value of around $3.4 billion.
Thales is also being prosecuted for corruption and money laundering.
Zuma, 79, and the company deny the charges.
“The case is adjourned to May 26, 2021, when the plea will be recorded,” said Judge Piet Koen asking the accused to be present at a hearing which AFP attended.
Dropped by his army of lawyers a few weeks earlier, it was his new counsel, Me Thabani Masuku, who told the court on Monday that “Mr. Zuma is ready for his trial, he has always been ready”.
A handful of minutes earlier, the entire courtroom rose when the ex-South African president took his seat.
“Long live Jacob Zuma!” a supporter said in the corridor of the court.
Also attending the trial and supporting Zuma was Ace Magashule, the ruling party’s former secretary-general, recently suspended on corruption charges.
He told AFP it was a “political” trial.
Zuma has lodged a string of unsuccessful series of appeals to have the charges dropped.
For now, Zuma’s repeated refusal to testify to the commission has led to a judicial stalemate.
But he has been named directly or indirectly by more than 30 witnesses before the panel, whose findings may be used for investigation and prosecution purposes
In power between 2009 and 2018, Zuma was forced to resign after a series of scandals. His successor Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to eradicate corruption in the country.