Ex- President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in a much-postponed corruption case dating back over two decades.
Jacob Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand, the equivalent of nearly $5 billion at the time.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) forced Zuma to resign in 2018 after a mounting series of scandals.
Zuma who at the time was president Thabo Mbeki’s deputy is accused of accepting bribes totalling four million rand from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales.
He faced the court in the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg, where numerous supporters and relatives were gathered, he was repeatedly asked by the judge, Piet Koen, to confirm in person the response of his attorney, given “the magnitude of what we’re dealing with.”
Zuma said without hesitating “I plead not guilty,” Zuma’s plea concludes years of delay in the long-awaited trial, which many South Africans say will deliver the verdict of history on his turbulent presidency.
Prosecutors intend to call around 200 witnesses.
Under his nine-year tenure, say critics, corruption and cronyism flourished, and billions of dollars in state assets and business were siphoned off.
His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, has vowed to stamp out graft, but is meeting resistance from pro-Zuma figures who command grassroots support in the ANC.