Billy Downer belongs to the group of people in the National Prosecuting Authority who believe there should be no room for political interference in a prosecutor’s decision to prosecute.
In a plea filed late on Wednesday night, at the Pietermaritzburg High Court, to have Billy Downer recused as the State advocate in the Jacob Zuma corruption trial, the former president asserted that Downer was unfit for several reasons.
News has in its possession the plea for recusal document which cited a lack of independence and impartiality as one of the many reasons Zuma wanted Downer recused.
Zuma adds that Downer cannot be trusted to act in good faith as he has previously leaked sensitive information about him to journalists whom he believed were hostile towards him.
Zuma’s legal team filed a 146-page plea explanation detailing why Downer should be recused from the trial scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
A further reason cited was that Downer allegedly played a role which made him an essential witness on the issue of whether there was political interference, the nature of which Zuma believed violated the possibility of a fair trial.
Downer in 2009 filed an affidavit in support of the Democratic Alliance’s application for a review and to set aside a decision by the NPA to terminate Zuma’s prosecution on the basis that there was political interference from the NPA.
The DA wanted Zuma prosecuted for criminal charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.
Documents attached by Zuma’s lawyers also revealed that transcripts of a conversation between Downer and journalist Sam Sole were also one of the reasons why Zuma felt he could not be trusted in conducting a fair process as a prosecutor.
In what seemed to be highly sensitive information pertaining to the arms deal investigation, Downer coaches Sole on what direction his story and narrative should take.
In 2002, Sole wrote an article about Zuma where he reported that Zuma was involved in an attempt to secure a R500 000 bribe from Thompson in exchange for protection during the investigation into the arms deal and Zuma’s support for future Thompson projects in South Africa.
According to Zuma, Downer was neither independent nor impartial, making it difficult for the state to ensure a fair trial.
“His opposition of the NPA’s evidence that my prosecution would not be fair as required in terms of section 35 of the Constitution because it had been exposed to unlawful political manipulation, disqualifies from prosecuting me,” read Zuma’s affidavit.
Zuma also placed on record as part of his argument that Downer’s determination to conduct the prosecution in the face of the NPA relating to the criminal and unlawful political interference and manipulation of Zuma’s prosecution, meant that Downer was biased against Zuma.
“In the event that my plea to have Mr Downer removed in terms of the criminal procedure Act, 51 of 1997, is successful, I am entitled to be acquitted in terms of section 106 (4) of the CPA on the basis that no fair trial may be conducted under the circumstances set out in the plea explanation.”
According to Zuma, Downer was acutely aware that the application seeking the termination of the NPA’s decision was brought by a political party that is entirely hostile towards him.
“Supporting a political party’s application to have me prosecuted after the NPA had terminated the decision to do so creates a reasonable belief that he is biased.”
Zuma’s lawyers believe that Downer failed to disclose to the court the unlawful political interference in decisions involving Zuma and that he also failed to report his conduct to preserve the integrity of the prosecution process as required under NPA Act 32 of 1998.
Approached for comment, Zuma’s attorney Mondli Thusini confirmed that the plea was filed on Wednesday evening but would not provide any further information.
NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said the matter was a regurgitation of old, false issues which were previously rejected by the courts. “However, the matter is now sub juice, we will deal with it extensively in court as required.”