PRETORIA (REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Former South African president Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption on Friday (March 16) over a US$2.5 billion (S$3.2 billion) state arms deal, a stunning judicial ruling on a continent where political "Big Men" rarely face their day in court.
Zuma, who was forced to resign by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) last month, was at the centre of the deal to buy European military kit that has cast a shadow over politics in Africa's most industrialized economy for years.
Prosecutors in the case allege that Zuma took kickbacks from the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and other arms manufactured by five European firms, including British military equipment maker BAE Systems and French company Thales.
Chief state prosecutor Shaun Abrahams told a media conference that Zuma's attempts to head off the charges that have been hanging over him for more than a decade had failed.
The 75-year-old disputed all the allegations against him, he added.
"After consideration of the matter, I am of the view that there are reasonable prospects of successful prosecution of Mr Zuma on the charges listed in the indictment," Abrahams said.
"I am of the view that a trial court would be the most appropriate forum for these issues to be ventilated and to be decided upon," he said.
Zuma will face 16 charges relating to 783 instances of alleged wrongdoing, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said.
Then deputy president, Zuma was linked to the arms deal through Schabir Shaikh, his former financial adviser who was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Shaikh was later released on medical parole.
The counts were filed but then dropped by the NPA shortly before Zuma successfully ran for president in 2009.
Since his election, his opponents fought a lengthy legal battle to have the charges reinstated. Zuma countered with his own legal challenges.
Zuma has also been implicated by South Africa's anti-corruption watchdog in a 2016 report that alleges the Gupta family, billionaire friends of Zuma, used links with him to win state contracts. The Guptas and Zuma have denied any wrongdoing.
In addition to the corruption scandals that dogged his time in office, Zuma was under fire for his handling of the economy, which has been battered by falling economic growth and record unemployment.
Zuma's successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has vowed to tackle corruption, admitting it was a major problem in the government.