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Indian-origin scandal snowballs in SA

Pretoria, June 20 (Reuters): South Africa’s popular former deputy president Jacob Zuma will be charged with corruption in a case which has already seen his Indian-origin aide sentenced to 15 years in prison, state prosecutors said today.

“We have decided to bring criminal charges,” national prosecuting authority spokesman Makhosini Nkosi said. “On the basis of the evidence available, we think we have a case that can be successfully prosecuted ... Mr Zuma must be ready to appear in court some time this week.”

Nkosi said director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli met Zuma today to inform him of the decision to bring charges. The charges will include two counts of corruption, Nkosi said.

President Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma as his deputy last week after Zuma’s financial adviser Shabir Shaik was convicted of arranging bribes for him.

The decision to sack Zuma was widely hailed as proof of Mbeki’s determination to champion Africa’s drive against official corruption, a vexing subject for international donors, lenders and companies looking to invest in the continent.

In South Africa, however, the decision sparked controversy. The widely popular politician, who until recently was seen as Mbeki’s heir apparent, has denied any wrong-doing and hinted that he is the victim of a political conspiracy.

Shaik, a friend of Zuma from the anti-apartheid struggle, was convicted earlier this month in the Durban High Court of fraud and two counts of corruption. The judge in the case found the two had a “generally corrupt” relationship. Shaik was found guilty of trying to solicit a 500,000 rand ($72,500) a year bribe for Zuma from a French arms firm in return for protecting it from an investigation into a massive arms deal arranged by South Africa in the late 1990s.

The other corruption count said Shaik had paid Zuma 1.3 million rand in bribes to induce him to use his political influence to further Shaik’s business interests. The fraud charge related to accounting for these payments.

The public prosecutor said in 2003 there was prima facie evidence against Zuma, but a court case would be unwinnable ' prompting angry rebuttals from Zuma that he was being subjected to a politically-motivated “trial by media”.

Shaik’s trial and Zuma’s subsequent dismissal from his national post have badly divided the ruling African National Congress (ANC), where Zuma remains party deputy president with a large following among the rank-and-file.

Political analysts said the decision to charge Zuma was further evidence of South Africa’s determination to root out official corruption.

“The kinds of people who are worried about governance and corruption should be pleased with the decision,” said Tom Lodge, a political scientist at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.

Others said a not guilty verdict could position Zuma for a comeback in the race to succeed Mbeki when his second term ends in 2009. “Acquittal will give credence to the notion, which he and many of his supporters believe, that this is a political vendetta,” said Sipho Seepe, a political analyst at Johannesburg’s Henley Management College.

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