SAfrica court upholds state appeal in Zuma case

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JOHANNESBURG, Nov 8 (Reuters) A South African court today breathed life into a stalled corruption case against former Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who is widely considered a candidate to lead the ruling African National Congress.

The Supreme Court of Appeal agreed with prosecutors who had fought a 2006 lower court decision that found documents seized from Zuma and his lawyer were inadmissible in his corruption trial because police did not have proper search warrants.

In a majority decision, the appeals court said the warrants had proper legal authority, clearing the way for the crucial evidence to be used in any future corruption trial against Zuma, who remains deputy president of the ANC.

Bribery and fraud charges tied to Zuma's role in an arms deal were thrown out of court last year over procedural issues.

The state vowed to continue investigating and get the documents seized from houses belonging to him and his lawyer into court.

''We are very pleased and welcome the decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal,'' Tlali Tlali, spokesman for the country's National Prosecuting Authority, told Reuters after the decision by the court in Bloemfontein.

''One of the major hurdles (to recharging Zuma) has been overcome.'' Supporters of Zuma, who is the ANC deputy president, have described the corruption investigation against him as a political conspiracy to prevent him from winning the ANC leadership and ultimately the presidency of the country.

The ANC is due to elect a new leader next month. The party president has traditionally become the state president because of the ANC's electoral dominance.

President Thabo Mbeki, who fired Zuma in 2005, has hinted he will run for a third term as ANC leader despite opposition from some ANC members and leftist allies.

An Mbeki victory would ensure he holds significant sway over the ANC before being forced to step down as the nation's leader in two years. If Zuma were to be elected national president in 2009 polls, two rival centers of power would be established.

The Zuma camp was uncharacteristically quiet after the court ruling today.

The ANC said in a brief statement: ''We respect the court's decision. As we have consistently maintained, the law must be allowed to take its course.'' A spokesman for the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which has endorsed Zuma as its choice to lead the ANC, said the labour federation was ''still considering'' the implications of the decision.

Zuma has all but declared he will seek the leadership as he tours the country in an American-style election campaign that has fired up his native Zulu heartland and leftist supporters.

Mbeki loyalists fear he could endanger the strong economic growth that has marked Mbeki's two terms in power.

Reuters MS RN1611

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