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South Africa: Prosecutor Drops Corruption Charges Against Zuma

(Apr. 8, 2009) On April 6, 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of South Africa announced that it was dropping criminal charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion against Jacob Zuma, head of the African National Congress (ANC), thereby clearing the way for the parliament to select him as president in the vote scheduled at the end of the month. (John Allen, Zuma Dodges Prosecution After Party Infighting, ALLAFRICA.COM, Apr. 6, 2009, available at

In a televised news conference, the acting head of the NPA, Mokotedi Mpshe, said that the charges were dropped because the top NPA investigator, Leonard McCarthy, had manipulated the timing of the case against Zuma in late 2007 to coincide with the party elections of that year. McCarthy allegedly conspired with former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka, in a series of telephone conversations, to bring charges against Zuma in the weeks leading up to the election for the ANC leadership, although the charges were in fact brought after the election that Zuma won. Mpshe said that these telephone conversations in which attempts were made to manipulate the case amounted to “serious abuse of process.” He added that he had made a number of court affidavits denying political motives behind the state's case and after learning about the abuse he felt personally wronged. (Id.)

Mpshe admitted that the decision to drop the charges was not favored by the team of prosecutors who prepared the case. The NPA had alleged that between 1995 and 2005, Zuma received about US$400,000 from his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, who was convicted and sent to prison in 2005 for corruption and fraud. Mpshe said that the team of prosecutors felt strongly that, regardless of the abuse of process, the NPA has a strong case against Zuma, that it should proceed with the case, and that it should be left to the judge to decide whether the abuse was grave enough to invalidate the charges. He said that he, nonetheless, overruled them and added, “[l]ike Caesar's wife, the prosecution must be above any trace of suspicion.” (Id.)