A South African court dismissed a long-running corruption case against the opposition leader Julius Malema on Tuesday, handing a victory to one of President Jacob G. Zuma’s most strident critics.
The High Court in Polokwane, in Mr. Malema’s home province of Limpopo, threw out the charges because of excessive delays in trying the case, which began three years ago. State prosecutors asked on Monday for another postponement because a co-defendant was ill.
“Starting from 2012 up to 2015 is too long a time for any person to have a sword hanging over his head, and I’m not willing to subject the accused to that particular ordeal once more,” Judge George Mothle said in dismissing the case.
State prosecutors could still decide to refile charges, which relate to a $4.1 million road construction contract awarded to a company with ties to Mr. Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, the country’s second-largest opposition party. Members of the group, who dress in red berets and jackets, aggressively attack Mr. Zuma and the governing African National Congress in Parliament.
The court did not acquit Mr. Malema, nor did it delve into the details of the charges that he improperly profited from the contract. Critics have said the case was politically motivated.
The decision on Tuesday was an embarrassment for Mr. Zuma and the governing party, which have been locked in a political duel with Mr. Malema for years. Mr. Malema, a charismatic leader, was once the head of the A.N.C.’s youth wing and a strong backer of Mr. Zuma, but he was given to provocative actions like publicly singing a song called “Shoot the Boer” that a South African court banned as hate speech.
He was expelled from the A.N.C. in 2012, and he resurrected his political career the following year by forming his new party, which calls for the nationalization of land and draws strong support from South Africa’s impoverished and disaffected youth.
Outside the courthouse, Mr. Malema told reporters that prosecutors “want postponement after postponement, so that I become a citizen in South Africa with a permanent dark cloud over my head.”
Mr. Malema said that he was looking forward to appearing in Parliament later this week. He has been among the most tenacious and vocal critics of Mr. Zuma’s spending practices, including tens of millions of dollars of public money spent on improvements to his private homestead, Nkandla. Mr. Zuma has rejected calls by the public and the country’s public protector for him to repay some of the money.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Norimitsu Onishi