S.Africa's ex-president Zuma appears in court for corruption plea

Former South African President Jacob Zuma arrives at court to face corruption charges in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, May 26, 2021. Phill Magakoe/Pool via REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Former South African leader Jacob Zuma appeared in court on Wednesday, where he was expected to plead not guilty to corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering charges over a $2 billion arms deal when he was deputy president.

Zuma, who was president between 2009-2018, faces 18 charges relating to the 1999 deal. He has rejected the charges and says he is the victim of a politically motived witch hunt by a rival faction of the ruling African National Congress.

Zuma is accused of accepting 500,000 rand ($34,000) annually from French arms company Thales, in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into the deal. He denies the charge.

Besides entering a plea at the court in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, Zuma's defence team is expected to first call for the recusal of state prosecutor Billy Downer, on the grounds that he has "no title to prosecute".

Thales was known as Thomson-CSF at the time of the deal. It has said it had no knowledge of any transgressions by any of its employees in relation to the award of the contracts.

The National Prosecuting Authority filed the charges against Zuma more than a decade ago, set them aside just before he successfully ran for president in 2009, then reinstated them a month after he resigned in early 2018.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks and Wendell Roelf, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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