Can NPA prove the Zuma case?
One of my favourite movie lines is from the Oscar-winning thriller, Training Day.
In the police drama rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) spends his first day in the elite LAPD narcotics unit shadowing legendary officer Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington).
Of course it turns out to be a messy 24-hour roller coaster on the nasty streets of Los Angeles.
Hoyt soon learns that his mentor is in fact dirty.
Upon confronting Harris, gun in hand, the veteran detective looks at Hoyt dead in the eye and drops his trademark line, “It’s not what you know. It’s what you can prove.”
This line came to mind as I watched Duduzane Zuma, the former president’s most famous son, bundled into a car and taken to court to face corruption charges on Monday.
The matter relates to an alleged R600m bribe offered to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas back in October 2015.
Stemming from an affidavit by Jonas, the state alleges that Zuma junior acted in common purpose with the eldest of the Gupta brothers, Ajay, in offering Jonas the finance minister position, which would place the National Treasury under the family’s control.
Zuma was released on R100,000 bail and the case is to resume in the New Year.
Predictably, his court appearance was not without a healthy dose of drama.
Touching a nerve among many commentators was how his ankles were shackled “like a common thug” when appearing in the dock.
Many argued that Zuma could not be considered a dangerous criminal nor was he reasonably assumed to be a flight risk.
Therefore, the decision to shackle him was unnecessary, even politically inspired theatrics designed to humiliate a member of the Zuma clan.
In response to this criticism, the Hawks said it was standard procedure for suspects appearing in that court to be shackled.
Furthermore Zuma himself, the Hawks said, had opted for the chains because he did not want to appear to be treated differently.
I have no reason to question the Hawks’ assertion in this regard. Frankly, it is irrelevant. Zuma was not the first, nor the last, corruption accused to be put in chains.
Apart from our subjective views of what may or may not be appropriate treatment for an accused person, there is nothing to suggest that Zuma’s rights were violated by putting chains on his ankles.
So in that regard I am indifferent.
A more pressing concern in my view is whether the National Prosecuting Authority can actually prove its case against Zuma.
Failure to do so could land a severe blow to the credibility of the Hawks and the NPA, and give some credence to claims that these law enforcement agencies were hopelessly incompetent or were political tools in the factional battles of the ANC.
The case, while morally justified, may not be an open and shut one for the NPA.
The evidence contained in the State of Capture report – its founding basis – shows that Zuma and Jonas communicated by phone that day in October.
Cellphone records also show that the pair met at the Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank.
Later they were, together with businessman Fana Hlongwane, at the Gupta compound.
Jonas’s version is that this is where the alleged bribe was offered.
Zuma’s version is that the meeting was arranged by Hlongwane, who had matters to discuss with Jonas and that no bribe was offered to anyone.
Granted it is not illegal to arrange a meeting with a public servant.
Nor is it illegal to be in the presence of one.
Therefore the meeting itself is not in dispute, the content of the discussion therein is the crux of the matter.
It is a classic case of he said, he said.
Of course it is reasonable for any person to believe that a bribe was indeed offered.
Given what we now know about the Guptas, their shady dealings with state-owned companies and the wholesale looting of SA Inc, it is not unreasonable to believe that they were desperate enough to shop around for a finance minister.
However, while Jonas’s version of events in the lead-up to Ajay Gupta’s living room checks out, it may not form sufficient legal grounds for a court to conclude that the content of the conversation that followed is as he claimed.
The acid test here is not a balance of probabilities.
Prosecutors have the unenviable burden to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ajay Gupta, working with Zuma, offered the bribe.
The NPA know this. So what exactly is its game plan?
Some believe the corruption charges against Zuma are part of the prosecution’s elaborate strategy to keep him in SA long enough to build an even stronger case against the state capture project.
Possibly. Whatever the strategy, one hopes that our prosecutors will not once again take us on gimmicky ride to nowhere.
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