Commission of Inquiry into State Capture chair Raymond Zondo is not letting Jacob Zuma off the hook and yesterday indicated his intention to file criminal charges against the ex-president, which experts say will be hard to defend.
If Zuma thought his dramatic exit from proceedings on Thursday last week had thrown the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture off his trail, he was wrong.
Not only did commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo yesterday announce plans to open a criminal case against Zuma, he also indicated the commission was still vying to get him on the stand.
And this time, Zondo and his team are hoping to get the Constitutional Court in their corner.
During his announcement yesterday, Zondo highlighted that at the time Zuma left proceedings – without permission – during a tea break on Thursday, there was a valid and binding summons for his appearance in place and that this was a “serious matter”.
“It impacts on the integrity of the commission, the rule of law and public accountability. It is important we all remember the matters which this commission is investigating and on which it seeks to question Mr Zuma are matters that happened largely when Mr Zuma was president of the republic and had an obligation to account for what was happening during his presidency,” he said.
Zondo pointed out Zuma’s conduct could send the “wrong message” to other witnesses – “that witnesses who have been summoned can come and go as they please before the commission.
“If that were to happen, this commission would not be able to operate,” he said. “It is therefore quite important for the proper functioning of this commission that Mr Zuma’s conduct be dealt with in a manner in which our law provides it should be dealt with.”
In the interim, Zondo also said the commission would be setting new dates for Zuma to appear before him to testify and issuing a new summons – and that it would be approaching the Constitutional Court for an urgent order compelling him to comply.
Legal experts and analysts yesterday suggested it would be difficult for Zuma to mount a defence to a criminal case. The Commissions Act makes it a criminal offence – punishable by a fine and/ or up to six months in prison – for witnesses who, like Zuma, leave proceedings without being excused by the commission chair.
Constitutional law expert Pierre De Vos said if Zuma could show he had “sufficient cause” to leave proceedings, he would – in theory – be able to avoid conviction.
But De Vos said this would be difficult to show in the current circumstances.
And advocate Paul Hoff man, who heads up anticorruption pressure group Accountability Now, had a similar opinion.
Zuma ditched proceedings last Thursday in the shadow of a bruising ruling from Zondo dismissing the former president’s application for his recusal as commission chair.
Prior to his departure, though, Zuma had – through his advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane – indicated his plans to launch a review of Zondo’s decision and Hoff man speculated his defence would centre on this.
“The law does not simply require that a review be commenced,” he said. “What is required is an interim interdict.”
“The idea that irreparable harm can be caused to Zuma by giving evidence is problematic because this is a commission of inquiry he’s trying to stop, not a criminal or civil case.”
Of the commission’s plans to approach the Constitutional Court directly for its backing, meanwhile, both De Vos and Hoff mann yesterday questioned whether or not this would prove successful with most cases having to go to the high court first.
Advocate Paul Hoffman Head of anticorruption group Accountability Now
– The Citizen