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19.07.2019 South Africa

Zuma pulls out of South African graft inquiry

By Michelle GUMEDE
Former South African president Jacob Zuma has dismissed all accusations made against him by previous witnesses to the inquiry.  By MIKE HUTCHINGS (POOL/AFP)
JUL 19, 2019 SOUTH AFRICA
Former South African president Jacob Zuma has dismissed all accusations made against him by previous witnesses to the inquiry. By MIKE HUTCHINGS (POOL/AFP)

Former South African president Jacob Zuma on Friday withdrew from testifying to an inquiry into corruption under his rule, citing biased treatment and harsh questioning.

In the corruption scandal popularly referred to as "state capture", Zuma is accused of overseeing mass looting of state assets during his nine-year tenure.

"We are here today to say that we will take no further part in these proceedings," Zuma's lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane told the inquiry commission in Johannesburg.

"Our client from the beginning... has been treated as someone who was accused."

An agitated Sikhakhane said the inquiry had become "a political process," drawing loud clapping and cheering from Zuma loyalists in the public seats at the inquiry.

Zuma, who started testifying on Monday, had dismissed all accusations made against him by previous witnesses to the inquiry.

He was due to give a final day of evidence on Friday after the inquiry was adjourned on Wednesday when he complained that the questioning was effectively a court cross-examination.

Zuma was ousted by the ruling ANC party in 2018 and replaced by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has vowed to clean up the government.

On the first day of his testimony, Zuma gave a rambling address saying he was the victim of conspiracies and years of "character assassination", and accusing foreign intelligence agencies and spies of working against him.

He also said he had received multiple death threats and attempts on his life.

The former president, 77, later replied to many questions at the inquiry by saying he did not remember or was unaware of meetings and conversations that other witnesses had mentioned.

Possible prosecutions

Zuma was not legally summonsed to attend the inquiry, but was invited to reply after being implicated in graft by several previous witnesses.

"I expected that he would cooperate, which he did by agreeing to come," said judge Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the inquiry.

"The first purpose was to give him an opportunity to tell his side of his story."

The inquiry is investigating a web of deals involving government officials, the wealthy Gupta business family and state-owned companies.

The Indian-born Gupta brothers -- Ajay, Atul and Rajesh -- have left South Africa and are now based in Dubai.

One witness, former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene testified that Zuma pushed policies on nuclear power and aviation that were designed to benefit the Gupta family.

"Mr Zuma and his legal team are in effect asking to be excused from the application of the rules," the inquiry's lead lawyer Paul Pretorius said.

"If the questions are detailed and if the questions and difficult... so be it.

"We are not only entitled, but obliged to ask those questions."

Zuma was forced to set up the commission in January 2018, shortly before he left office, after failing in a legal battle to overturn the instructions of the country's ethics ombudsman.

It has been holding hearings since last year and is due to complete a report next year that may lead to criminal prosecutions.

Zuma has also been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to a 1990s arms deal made before he became president.

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