© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former South African President Zuma will appear before the commission of inquiry into state corruption
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A corruption case will begin on May 17 against former South African president Jacob Zuma and the French company Thales related to a $ 2 billion arms deal, a court said on Tuesday. Zuma is accused of rampant corruption during his term as vice president from 1999 and then as president from 2009 to 2018, although he denies any wrongdoing. The arms trafficking allegations relate to his time as vice president and he is on trial on 16 counts of extortion, fraud, corruption and money laundering in connection with the French defense firm Thales. Zuma is accused of accepting rand 500,000 ($ 34,000) a year from Thales since 1999 as a bribe, in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into a deal to supply military equipment to South Africa. He denied the charges at an earlier hearing. Thales, known as Thompson-CSF in 1999, has consistently said that it is not aware of any of its employees committing violations in connection with the award of contracts. The pre-trial hearing, which aired on local television, began Tuesday after it was postponed in December. Zuma was not present at the hearing. The case is ready to go to trial, the Pietermaritzburg High Court said, asking all defendants to be present on May 17 as long as COVID-19 restrictions allow representatives of the French company to fly into the country. . The trial will last from May to June, the court said. In another case, a South African investigation into corruption during Zuma’s time as president seeks his imprisonment for two years after he defied an order from the country’s high court to appear and testify.