South African inquiry panel to seek jail term for ex-president Jacob Zuma for defying summons

Zuma has insisted that he will not appear before the panel unless its chairperson, whom he has accused of being biased, steps down

Press Trust of India February 17, 2021 10:24:44 IST
South African inquiry panel to seek jail term for ex-president Jacob Zuma for defying summons

File image of Jacob Zuma. Reuters

Johannesburg: The head of a South African inquiry commission into alleged state corruption has said he would seek former president Jacob Zuma to be held in contempt of court for his persistent refusal to continue testimony at hearings, and impose a jail term if found guilty.

Zuma last year walked out of a hearing at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in South Africa without the permission of the chairperson, which was deemed to be in contempt of court.

Zuma has insisted that he will not return unless the chairperson of the Commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, steps down.

The former president has claimed he would not get a fair hearing because Zondo, he alleged, is biased against him, something that Zondo has denied.

The former president was asked to step down three years ago by his own African National Congress amid widespread public anger over allegations of his role in state capture, especially by the Gupta family, originally from India, who were allegedly very close to Zuma during his presidency.

The family is now in self-exile in Dubai, with South Africa reportedly engaging the government there for extradition.

"The commission will approach the Constitutional Court (the country''s highest court) and ask it to impose a term of imprisonment of Mr Zuma if it finds that he is guilty of contempt of court," Zondo said on Monday, when Zuma was scheduled to reappear before the Commission but failed to do so, a third time.

Zondo cited the dangerous precedent that would be set if Zuma was allowed to defy the summonses from the Commission, as well as a ruling by the Constitutional Court for him to appear before the Commission.

"The Commission views Mr Zuma’s conduct in a very serious light, particularly because it is repeatedly conducted. The commission has not treated Mr Zuma unfairly at all and he has no valid reason not to appear before the commission at all," Zondo said.

Zuma retaliated with a 12-page statement on Monday evening in which he repeated his claim that the Zondo Commission was part of a well-orchestrated plan to remove him from office, although he offered no evidence to back this up.

He also suggested that the judiciary, long held as operating at arm’s length from the government, was now serving the needs of a few people with vested interests.

"I firmly believe that we should never allow for the establishment of a judiciary in which justice, fairness and due process are discretionary and are exclusively preserved for certain litigants and not others," he alleged.

"It is not the authority of the Constitutional Court that I reject, but its abuse by a few judges. It is not our law that I defy, but a few lawless judges who have left their constitutional post for political expediency. I respect the law and have subjected myself even to its abuse for the past 20 years," Zuma said.

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