South Africa's Jacob Zuma sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court

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South Africa's untouchable former president, Jacob Zuma, was finally sentenced Tuesday to 15 months in prison for contempt of court, after multiple attempts and schemes to avoid testifying in state corruption investigations.

Jacob Zuma, 79, who had said he had no fear of arrest, conviction or imprisonment, now has five days to surrender. If he does not, police will be allowed to collect him from his home and take him to a prison where he will begin serving his sentence.

"The Constitutional Court has no choice but to find Mr. Zuma in contempt of court," said the Constitutional Court, the country's highest court. "By a majority of the members, the court orders an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment for a period" of 15 months, Justice Sisi Khampe said.

The former president is accused of having plundered public money during his nine years in power (2009-2018). Mired in scandals, he had been pushed to resign.

Since the creation in 2018 of a commission to investigate state corruption, the ex-president, already implicated in some forty testimonies, has multiplied maneuvers to avoid having to explain himself, piling up appeals or asserting his right to silence.

- "Punished" -

After yet another summons to appear at the end of February, the anti-corruption commission called for a two-year prison sentence against the former head of state. The ex-president that time not only ignored the commission but also a January court ruling requiring him to appear and denying him the right to remain silent.

"This kind of reluctance and defiance is illegal and will be punished," said Justice Sisi Khampepe. "I have no choice but to imprison Mr. Zuma, in the hope that this sends an unequivocal message," she added, "that the rule of law and the administration of justice prevail.

Jacob Zuma has only testified once before the anti-corruption commission, in July 2019. He had quickly slammed the door, taking offense at being treated as an "accused."

The former president is also facing trial for a bribery case that is more than 20 years old. He faces 16 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering related to the purchase of military equipment from five european arms companies in 1999, when he was vice president.

He is accused of having pocketed more than four million rand (235,000 euros at the current rate) from the French company Thales, which was one of the companies awarded the lucrative contract worth about 2.8 billion euros.

The current President Cyril Ramaphosa succeeded him as head of the country. Ramaphosa has made the fight against corruption a priority, but he himself was called to testify before the commission.

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