Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, has accused prosecutors in his corruption trial of political malice rather than seeking to find the truth, as he denied charges of corruption at the first major hearing of his trial.

Zuma faces charges of bribery, fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a $2.5bn deal to buy European military hardware to upgrade South Africa’s armed forces in 1999 when he was deputy president. Zuma, who also faces a separate inquiry into corruption during his time as president, was accused of accepting 500,000 rand (£26,000) annually from the French arms company Thales, in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into the deal.

Zuma entered a plea of not guilty after prosecutors read out the charges against him. He told the court the prosecution was politically motivated, accusing government lawyers of working “not to find the truth but to bolster a narrative of a corrupt political leader”. His lawyers are applying for the lead state prosecutor to stand down due to legal technicalities.

In a public hearing last year as part of a judicial commission of inquiry set up as he left power, Zuma denied he had presided over an immense system of corruption and patronage that drained billions from the country’s exchequer. He told the inquiry he was a victim of a plot by foreign intelligence agencies seeking his downfall. He then walked out of the hearings for which he faces a possible jail sentence after failing to reappear.

Experts said Zuma’s refusal to appear before the inquiry was one of the most significant tests for South Africa’s democratic institutions in many years.

The next hearing will be on 19th July, 2021 at Pietermaritzburg High Court

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