Zuma corruption judge to be revealed on trial day

KwaZulu-Natal judge president Vuka Tshabalala said last week the both the defence and prosecuting teams would only know who the judge for the trial would be on the first day of the trial.

Without stating his reasons for withholding the identity of the presiding judge, Tshabalala said he would not reveal the name of the judge before the trial begins, despite mounting pressure for him to do so as the trial date nears.

Zuma will face charges of corruption stemming from his alleged “generally corrupt relationship” with his financial advisor Shabir Schaik at the end of the month, the culmination of what has been a marathon court battle for the former deputy president.

However, the anxiety gripping the nation ahead of Zuma’s second court appearance in as many months has been considerably heightened by the judge president’s decision to withhold the name of the presiding judge.

Tshabalala has given no indication of who might preside over the case or whether he has made a decision on the judge, though speculation has been mounting among the concerned parties over who the judge president’s choice will be.

The local Kwazulu-Natal media has tipped Pietermaritzberg judge Herbert Msimang to be handed the case, though there is still some degree of uncertainty.

Billy Downer, who will head the prosecuting team, told Kwazulu-Natal media last week that he did not know who would be appointed to judge the case , while Anton Steynberg, who will assist Downer, said he believed a judge had been appointed but did not know who it was.

Zuma’s attorney, Michael Hulley, said the defence had also not been told who the judge would be, even though they had made a formal request to the Durban High Court for the identity of the judge to be revealed to them.

He however said the defence team was not concerned by the judge president’s action. “It is really the judge president’s prerogative to decide who to select and when to inform us, even though we would have wanted to know well before the trial begins,” he said. While the trial date has been set for July 31, concerns are still floating over whether or not the trial will go ahead, following an appeal by Schaik against his conviction.

Shaik was convicted by Judge Hilary Squires on charges of corruption in July last year, and was sentenced to two terms of 15 years for corruption, and one term of three years for fraud.

The sentences were to be served concurrently, though the appeal is only expected to be heard when the Supreme Court of Appeal begins it’s third term in August.

Legal experts say if Schaik wins his appeal, the prosecution would find it difficult to make the charges against Zuma stick, as the charges being laid on the ANC deputy president largely stem from Schaik’s conviction.

Another sticking point has also arisen in the form of contentious search and seizure raids that were carried out by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Scorpions on the offices and homes of Zuma and his lawyers, as well as on the homes and offices of representatives of arms manufacturer Thint, which will face corruption charges together with Zuma.

Two courts have ruled that the raids were not lawful and the matter is up for appeal.

Until the matter is resolved the prosecution will not know whether the documents seized in the operations can be used in the upcoming trial. Zuma corruption judge to be revealed on trial day

June 2006
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