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South Africa graft panel orders Zuma to testify after no-show

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 27, 2018 former South African president Jacob Zuma stands in the dock of the High Court of Pietermaritzburg during his hearing over 16 corruption charges. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Phill MAGAKOE

A South African judicial panel probing state graft during Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule on Monday set “non-negotiable” dates for the ex-leader to testify in November after another no-show this week.

The commission, chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, was set up in 2018 to hear testimony from ministers, ex-ministers, government officials and business executives on alleged corruption under Zuma’s tenure.

The ex-president first appeared in July last year denying any wrongdoing. He then withdrew two days into the process, complaining that he had been “treated as someone who was accused”.

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Zuma, 78, was expected to testify this week after he was reportedly too ill to show up for a second round of questioning in January.

But Zondo on Monday said Zuma’s attorneys had informed him the ex-president was unable to attend because of health risks associated with travel, and because their client was “busy” preparing for a separate graft trial.

In a televised address to his panel, Zondo did not comment on the stated reasons and said Zuma’s appearance had been rescheduled to November 16-20.

“This commission does not negotiate dates with witnesses,” he added. “People are supposed to appear.”

Zuma’s lawyer did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

The commission has amassed damning evidence against Zuma since South Africa’s ruling party forced him to resign over graft allegations in 2018.

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The former president is accused of facilitating the looting of state coffers through a series graft scandals centred on an Indian migrant business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative contracts with state companies.

Zondo said the commission’s legal team would seek authorisation to subpoena Zuma unless his lawyers provide a satisfactory explanation for his failure to appear this week by October 9.

In February, a South African court issued an arrest warrant after Zuma failed to appear for a pre-trial hearing over a separate corruption case related to a 1990s arms deal.

The warrant was revoked in June after a judge overseeing the case accepted a doctor’s letter confirming Zuma had been too sick to attend the hearing.

Little is known about Zuma’s health, but he was undergoing medical treatment in Cuba for an undisclosed illness at the time. When he returned home he was wearing sunglasses, complaining of an eye problem.

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