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Zuma cleared – for now –in arms deal corruption case

Case against South Africa's ANC party leader was tainted by politics, but some say a private suit may follow.

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Zuma's supporters, who've described the case against him as politically motivated, cheered the decision. The Congress of South African Trade Unions issued a statement saying that it "feels vindicated and is obviously thrilled at the outcome."

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The massive arms deal, in which the newly elected ANC government purchased some $5 billion worth of weapons, mostly from Europe, has cast a shadow over South African politics for more than a decade. In 2005, a close Zuma associate, Schabir Shaik, was convicted in the deal by a judge who described a "symbiosis" between the two.

Zuma was charged later that year, but the case was dropped after prosecutorial delays. In 2006, he was acquitted of rape after being accused by a woman he knew to be HIV-positive.

Prosecutors refiled corruption charges in December 2007, shortly after Zuma was elected the head of the ANC and became the odds-on favorite for president.

On Monday, Mpshe read aloud excerpts of wiretapped conversations in which Leonard McCarthy, then the head of the government's elite special investigations unit, and Bulelani Ngcuka, the former head of the prosecuting authority, discuss the timing of refiling the charges. In one recording, dated Dec. 24, 2007, after Zuma won the ANC presidency but before the charges were refiled, McCarthy is heard saying that he's a "Thabo man," an apparent reference to his support for Mr. Mbeki.

Mbeki has denied any involvement in the case against Zuma. Mr. McCarthy moved to the World Bank last September as the vice president of integrity and hasn't commented on the tapes.

Mpshe said that McCarthy's conversations constituted an "intolerable abuse" of the investigations process. However, critics say that if only the timing of the case was compromised – not the substance – it shouldn't have been dropped.

"At the moment it's not clear to us that the evidence of misconduct and inappropriate behavior warrants withdrawal of the charges," says Gary Pienaar, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, an independent policy institute. "We're asking whether there's an appropriate sense of proportion here."

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