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South African court orders release of tapes

Thursday - 8/28/2014, 11:44am  ET

FILE - In this Saturday May 9, 2009 file photo South Africa's president Jacob Zuma takes an oath during his inauguration in Pretoria, South Africa, for a first term. South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals has ordered the release of allegedly secretly recorded audio tapes about corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma. The court in Bloemfontein on Thursday Aug. 28, 2014 ordered the release of the recordings after an appeal by opposition party Democratic Alliance. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool, File)

CARLEY PETESCH
Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered the release of taped phone conversations about corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma, a move that could resurrect a case that has dogged the leader since before he took office.

Zuma had applied to prevent the tapes from being released while the opposition Democratic Alliance party sought access to them.

Conversations on the recordings were cited as a reason to drop fraud and corruption charges against Zuma before he became president in 2009. The prosecuting authority at that time said the conversations showed there was a political conspiracy against Zuma, but the actual recordings were never made public.

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille applauded the decision by the court on Thursday, and said her party will analyze the tapes and determine if there were legal reasons to withdraw the charges against Zuma.

"We are all equal before the law," she said in front of the court. "None of us is above the law. The court systems are being hijacked by politicians like Zuma and his network... If anybody is suspected of a crime and if there is a case to be made, that person must have his day in court, whether that person is a president or a pauper."

The National Prosecuting Authority has five days to release the recordings and internal notes on discussions about why the charges were dropped. Zuma, who at the time was deputy president, was accused of accepting bribes to thwart an investigation into wrongdoing by a French arms company involved in a massive weapons deal in the late 1990s.

The National Prosecuting Authority's acting director Mokotedi Mpshe in 2009 said he dropped fraud and corruption charges against Zuma because of prosecutorial misconduct. That decision came after Zuma's legal team brought him taped phone conversations allegedly between prosecutors and a head of a now disbanded crime-fighting unit called the Scorpions about the charges and their timing. The charges were announced around the time of a national conference of the ruling African National Congress party in 2007, purportedly to undermine Zuma's bid to become party president.

The president's lawyers have argued that the opposition party would use the tapes for political gain.

Kwandiwe Kondlo, a political and governance analyst, says the decision helps restore confidence in legal institutions.

"At least we can now believe there was independence in the courts," he said.

Zuma also faces questions about more than $20 million in government money spent to upgrade his private rural home. South Africa's public prosecutor had submitted a report suggesting that he pay back to the government a portion of the funds that were not spent on security upgrades. The issue has caused an exchange of words between the public prosecutor and the ANC in recent days.

Zuma is in Russia this week.


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