J. Zuma

Lawyers for former South African President Jacob Zuma are planning to argue in court that charges of corruption against the ex-president are too old to litigate and should be dropped.

Mr. Zuma is accused of committing 16 counts of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to a multi-billion-dollar 1999 arms deal.

The arms deal involves military hardware supplied by Thales, a French defense company, to South Africa’s armed forces in the late 1990s.

The 77-year-old Zuma has denied any wrongdoing, claiming he was the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt, and has applied for a permanent stay of prosecution over the case.

Muzi Sikhakhane, Zuma’s lawyer, called the case against his client, “mob justice” and said he had been charged because of his unpopularity among many South Africans.

“Suppose we know that he may well have done what we suspect he did. Does he get stripped of human dignity, is there a reason to deal with him in a particular way because he is Mr Zuma?” Sikhakhane said in his opening comments on the first day of the hearing.

Sikhakhane argued that given the time span, Zuma’s constitutional right to a prompt trial had been “violated to the point where we could say ‘a fair trial can never happen’.”

The French arms company expressed a similar view, saying they believed they cannot obtain a fair trial because of the very long delay of the case, together with a range of factors beyond its control.

The company has denied any knowledge of any transgressions having been committed by any of its employees in relation to the awarding of the contract in the 1999 arms deal.

The hearing is set to last until Friday but the court will not sit on Wednesday.

A separate judicial inquiry into alleged state corruption during Zuma’s time as president is under way, meanwhile, in Johannesburg.