SAfrican court backs 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, a front-runner in the contest to lead the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

The Supreme Court of Appeal sided with prosecutors and ruled that documents seized from Zuma and his lawyer could be used in future corruption proceedings against him.

In a majority decision, the appeals court overturned a lower court decision that the documents were inadmissible because the police who seized them did not have proper search warrants.

It also rejected Zuma's appeal against another lower court decision allowing the state to obtain documents in Mauritius allegedly connected to the case.

The decisions cleared the way for important evidence to be used in any future corruption trial against Zuma, who remains deputy president of the ANC but is tarnished politically by the corruption allegations.

Bribery and fraud charges tied to his alleged role in an arms deal were dismissed 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.

''One of the major hurdles (to recharging Zuma) has been overcome.'' POWER STRUGGLE Supporters of Zuma have described the corruption investigation as a political conspiracy to prevent him from winning the ANC leadership and, ultimately, the presidency of South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse.

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.

An Mbeki victory would ensure he held significant sway over the party before being forced to step down as the nation's leader in two years' time. If Zuma were to win the party leadership, this would establish two rival centres of power.

The factionalism has led to the worst crisis in the ANC's history and prompted suggestions of compromise candidates, including businessmen Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Zuma camp was 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.'' The powerful COSATU trade union federation today said it still backed Zuma for leader of the ruling ANC despite the appeal court ruling.

The ANC's youth league, also seen as a strong backer of Zuma's leadership bid, said its leaders were meeting behind closed doors and would issue a statement later today.

Reuters MS DB1843

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