South African court grants delay in Zuma's arms deal corruption trial

by Reuters
Tuesday, 20 July 2021 16:22 GMT

(Adds damage in recent riots, Ramaphosa's office)

JOHANNESBURG, July 20 (Reuters) - A South African court granted former President Jacob Zuma's request for a delay in his arms deal corruption trial on Tuesday, and adjourned proceedings for three weeks.

Zuma this month started a 15-month sentence for contempt of court, a ruling that triggered some of the worst unrest of the post-apartheid era.

He is also accused of receiving kickbacks over a $2 billion arms deal from the 1990s. He pleaded not guilty in May to charges including corruption, fraud and money laundering.

He has evaded prosecution for more than a decade, and portrayed himself as the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Efforts to prosecute him are seen as a test of the country's ability to hold powerful politicians to account.

"The trial is adjourned to 10-13 August 2021," Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen said. He did not give the reasons why he allowed the delay.

He appeared before the Pietermaritzburg court virtually but stayed silent while his legal team argued that a postponement should be granted so he could appear in person.

Zuma's jailing this month triggered violent protests and looting, initially in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) but later also in Gauteng, home to the country's biggest city, Johannesburg.

Cabinet minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told a news conference on Tuesday that 161 shopping malls, 11 warehouses and eight factories had been extensively damaged in KZN alone.

A local property association is still collating data on the extent of the damage in Gauteng, but the impact on KZN's economy is estimated at 20 billion rand ($1.4 billion), she continued.

The government is finalising a package of support measures for affected households and businesses that will be unveiled in the next few days, President Cyril Ramaphosa's office added in a statement.

There were fears Zuma's latest court appearance could lead to a flare-up of violent protests from his support base. That has not materialised so far.($1 = 14.6462 rand) (Reporting by Alexander Winning and Wendell Roelf; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Timothy Heritage and Nick Macfie)

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