South Africa’s Constitutional Court has found former president Jacob Zuma guilty of being in contempt of court.
In a ruling handed down on Tuesday (29 June), the country’s top court gave Zuma a direct and unsuspended sentence of 15 months of imprisonment.
Zuma faced contempt charges after defying a court order to testify before the Zondo commission of inquiry, where he has been implicated in corrupt activities by a number of witnesses.
The ruling sets a precedent as the Constitutional Court typically does not hand down punitive sentences – or order imprisonment.
While a minority judgement concurred with the finding that Zuma was in contempt of court, there was not a consensus as to whether Zuma should be summarily sent to prison.
Zuma led South Africa for almost nine scandal-marred years before the ruling party forced him to step down in 2018 to stem a loss of electoral support, Bloomberg reports.
At the end of May, the president appeared in the High Court on money laundering and racketeering charges and pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Zuma’s lawyer Dali Mpofu spent part of the first day of the trial arguing that state prosecutor Billy Downer should be replaced on the grounds that he wasn’t independent and impartial because he’d supported an opposition party’s bid to ensure his client faced charges.
The state will file its response before the hearing resumes in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on 19 July.
Zuma was fired as deputy president in 2005 after his financial adviser was found guilty of soliciting bribes for him from arms dealers in the 1990s.
Prosecutors then filed mirror charges against Zuma and French company Thales, but dropped the case shortly before he became president in 2009.
With further reporting from Bloomberg.