13 Sep 2008

South African judge throws out Zuma graft case

5:31 am on 13 September 2008

A South African judge threw out corruption charges against ruling party leader Jacob Zuma on Friday, clearing the way for him to become the country's next president.

He was facing charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering relating to a multi-billion dollar 1999 arms deal.

Judge Chris Nicholson granted Zuma's application to have the charges dismissed, saying it was clear there had been political interference in the case, and ordered the state to pay the African National Congress leader's legal costs.

Jacob Zuma's supporters say he was the victim of a political witch-hunt by his rival, South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr Mbeki was ousted as ANC leader by Mr Zuma last December.

Judge Nicholson said he was "not convinced that the applicant (Jacob Zuma) was incorrect when he averred political meddling in his prosecution."

The judge, a former human rights lawyer, referred to a "titanic political struggle" between Mr Zuma and Mr Mbeki and said two successive justice ministers had meddled in the prosecution.

Mr Zuma told thousands of supporters outside the court that the judge had said the prosecution was "a political wrangle", against the constitution and unfair.

"This is a lesson that we should never keep quiet when those in power break the law. I think the judgement is a serious reflection to those who are given authority and do not use it appropriately," Zuma said.

The ruling led to South Africa's rand currency weakening slightly against the dollar as investors fretted that Zuma's union and communist allies may push him away from pro-business policies if he becomes president.