Johannesburg, May 26 (EFE).- Former South African president Jacob Zuma on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to corruption charges at the beginning of his trial over an arms deal signed in the late 1990s.
“I plead not guilty,” the 79-year-old, who ruled the country between 2009 and 2018, said as he appeared in the Supreme Court of the Pietermaritzburg.
He is charged with illicit association, corruption, money laundering and fraud over nearly 800 operations related to a multimillion-dollar weapons deal signed with the French firm Thales.
Zuma, who faces other trials, is accused of receiving bribes with the intermediation of his then financial advisor, Shabir Shaik.
Zuma’s attorneys filed a motion to challenge prosecutor Billy Downer on the grounds that he lacked impartiality having previously testified against the former president.
After over two years of postponement and preliminary procedures, the trial was set to begin on 17 May, but the defense’s intention to challenge the prosecutors forced yet another delay.
The defense team has been accused of using court requests as a strategy to delay the start of the trial repeatedly, while the prosecutor’s office has always been ready to start the process.
Given the large volume of the challenge, which comprised some 1,000 pages, Downer asked for more time to prepare a response and the court set the upcoming session for 19 July.
The French company also pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.
Dozens of Zuma’s supporters gathered this morning in the vicinity of the court amid a strong police presence.