A South African court on Friday rejected an appeal by former president Jacob Zuma seeking to prevent his prosecution on corruption charges over a $2 billion arms deal.
The ruling paves the way for Zuma’s long-awaited trial to start in February 2020.
Zuma, in office from 2009-2018, previously applied for a permanent stay of prosecution on 18 charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to an arms deal with French defence firm Thales, among others, in the 1990s.
In mid-October, the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed an application by Zuma and Thales for a permanent stay of prosecution. Zuma appealed against it, but on Friday the court struck his appeal.
Zuma is accused of accepting R500 000 ($34 000) annually from Thales in 1999, in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into the deal. He rejects the allegations as a politically motivated “witch-hunt” against him.
Thales, then known as Thompson-CSF, said it had no knowledge of transgressions by any employees in relation to awarding the contracts.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) initially filed charges against Zuma a decade ago and set them aside shortly before Zuma successfully ran for president in 2009. Following appeals and lobbying by opposition parties, the NPA reinstated charges in March 2018.