Zuma Pleads Not Guilty For Multi-Billion Dollar Arms Deal

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Jacob Zuma, the former South African president, has pleaded not guilty in a corruption trial involving a $5bn (£3bn) arms deal from the 1990s.

He is facing 18 counts of racketeering, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Zuma blames political enemies in the governing African National Congress (ANC) party for his legal troubles.

The arms deal involved buying new fighter jets, helicopters, submarines and warships.

But questions emerged about the deal months after it was signed, with some critics saying the government should have spent the money on fighting poverty.

Zuma was South Africa’s president from 2009 until 2018 when he was forced to resign after a vote of no confidence.

On Wednesday crowds gathered outside the courthouse in Pietermaritzburg city in KwaZulu-Natal province to cheer on Mr Zuma, who still enjoys some popular support.

The former president’s defence team called for the removal of state prosecutor Billy Downer, on the grounds that he had “no title to prosecute”.

But the presiding judge ruled that the matter would be dealt with on 19 July.

Newly democratic South Africa decided its military needed to be overhauled – and five years after coming into power following the end of white minority rule, the ANC government signed contracts totalling 30bn rand ($5bn; £3bn in 1999).

The deal involved companies from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Britain, France and South Africa.

Even before the allegations of corruption, the spending of billions of dollars on new fighter jets, helicopters, submarines and warships was contentious in a country where millions lived in poverty.

Others also pointed out that there was no credible threat to South Africa’s sovereignty to justify the spending.

Questions emerged within months, leading to official investigations into allegations of conflict of interest, bribery and process violations in the purchasing of equipment.