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Zuma corruption trial: Judge Piet Koen recuses himself for sake of ‘justice’


  • Judge Piet Koen has recused himself from the corruption trial of Jacob Zuma and Thales.
  • Zuma’s legal team called for Koen’s recusal following findings he made in allowing Billy Downer to prosecute the former president.
  • A new judge has to be assigned to take over the case.

Judge Piet Koen has recused himself from the arms deal corruption trial of former president Jacob Zuma and Thales.

He says that, in the interest of justice, another judge should take over the case.

Zuma’s legal team said Koen had strong views about the State’s case against Zuma, especially in his judgment that Downer could still prosecute the former president, despite Zuma pursuing a private prosecution against Downer.

Zuma initiated a private prosecution against Downer and News24 journalist Karyn Maughan, accusing the two of violating the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act.

Downer shared court papers with Maughan after the documents had been filed with the court.

The papers contained a note from one of Zuma’s military doctors.

Zuma contended that his private medical information was “leaked” by Downer, even though he failed to claim confidentiality when his lawyers filed the disputed letter in court.

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Maughan’s reporting did not disclose details of Zuma’s medical condition.

In explaining his recusal on Monday, Koen lamented that he previously addressed the subject matter of Zuma’s criminal complaint against Downer in his ruling on the former president’s “special plea” application, where he dismissed the 14 grounds upon which Zuma contended that Downer lacked the “title” to prosecute him.

Judge Piet Koen presides over trial in red garb

Judge Piet Koen presides over former president Jacob Zuma’s arms deal corruption trial at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on 30 January 2023.

“The views I previously expressed will be reasonably perceived, I believe, to influence findings, which I will be required to make as to whether Mr Downer should, or should not, be removed as prosecutor.”

He said that, in the future, the issue of whether Zuma received a constitutionally fair trial “will arise for determinations”.

“When reasonably construed, my findings indicate that I have favoured a particular interpretation of these factual issues.”

He added: 

And they point to a reasonable and inevitable apprehension and, when these facts and circumstances are presented before me again, they will be decided by me in a similar manner.

Koen added that a consequence of his previous findings might be that Downer “should continue as prosecutor in the prosecution of Zuma”.

“If that was to be my conclusion, with the result of Mr Downer not removed, then Mr Zuma would be reasonably justified to feel aggrieved that a decision was made favouring the argument of Mr Downer, dictated, or at least very strongly influenced, by my previous findings or consistent with my previous findings and the views I had expressed.”

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“I have come to the conclusion, and it was not an easy decision, that I have to recuse myself from the trial. It is what the sound administration of justice, the requirements of the Constitution, and what my conscience dictate.”

The integrity of the judicial process must be protected against any reasonable taint of suspicion, so that the public and litigants have the highest confidence in the integrity and fairness of our courts, added Koen.

He then handed the matter to Judge Nkhosinathi Chili, who postponed it to 17 April.

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