Defiant Zuma sings, dances outside court as his corruption trial opens

Defiant Zuma sings, dances outside court as his corruption trial opens

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TODAY:

  • Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s former president, made a brief appearance in court in Durban this morning on corruption charges, as Brazil’s Lula and South Korea’s Park ponder what their own futures hold
  • The Spanish government has lost its initial bid to extradite Carles Puigdemont from Germany on a charge of rebellion, but is not backing away from plans to put Catalan’s separatists on trial
  • Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia have made a remarkable recovery after being poisoned with a nerve agent, although their pets have perished
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here


A world of corruption

For a man who has been forced from his job and now faces the possibility of at least a decade in prison, Jacob Zuma seems remarkably unworried.

South Africa’s former president made a brief appearance in court in Durban this morning, as his trial on 16 charges of corruption officially got underway. The pro forma session lasted just 15 minutes.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban, South Africa, on Friday as his trial on 16 charges of corruption officially got underway. (Nic Bothma/Reuters)

Then he went outside to sing and dance.

Crowds of supporters had been bused in from as far as the Northern Cape — a 12 hour drive. Dressed in the yellow, green and gold colours of the African National Congress, the party Zuma led until February, they chanted and waved placards with messages like “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” and “Hands off Zuma.”

Jacob Zuma makes court appearance on charges of corruption 0:36

“I have never seen it before where someone is charged with a crime, those charges are dropped, and then years later those same charges are reinstated,” the 75-year-old ex-president told the crowd in Zulu.

“This is a just a political conspiracy.”

The charges against the former politician date back to 1999. He is alleged to have received 783 separate bribes to deflect government scrutiny of a $4.8 billion US deal with Thales, a French arms manufacturer.

From the dock at the High Court in Durban, Zuma acknowledges supporters sitting behind him on Friday. The next date for the case has now been postponed until June 8, the Durban High Court announced. (Felix Dlangamandla/Associated Press)Zuma’s

former financial advisor, Schabir Shaikh, was found guilty of soliciting the payouts in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years in jail. But the charges against Zuma were dropped just before he ran for president in 2009, and only brought back two years ago.

“I keep asking what has Zuma done and no one has an answer for me,” the former president said today, lapsing into the third person. He returns to court on June 8.

But political defiance in the face of prosecution is in ample supply these days.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president and the frontrunner in this fall’s election campaign, is currently barricaded inside the offices of a metalworkers’ union in his hometown near Sao Paulo, trying to decide if he will turn himself in to police.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, also known as Lula, photographed through the window of a car in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Thursday. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)Yesterday, the country’s Supreme Court ruled

that the 72-year-old leftist must start serving a 12-year sentence for corruption, even as he appeals the verdict.

Last year, Lula was convicted of taking a beachfront apartment from a construction giant in exchange for political favours.

Under a warrant issued last night, he has until 5 p.m. local time to surrender to authorities in the southern city of Curitiba, or face arrest.

Supporters of former Brazilian president da Silva in Sao Bernardo do Campo protest Thursday against the court order that Lula turn himself in to police within 24 hours to serve a 12-year sentence for a graft conviction. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)A poll released this week

suggests that Lula would easily win re-election if allowed to run, despite the scandal.

Meanwhile, events in South Korea today may have offered Zuma and Lula a vision of their future.

A court in Seoul sentenced Park Geun-hye, the country’s former president, to 24 years in jail and fined her $22 million after finding her guilty of bribery, abuse of power and coercion. It was less than the 30 years and $145 million fine prosecutors had sought.

Former South Korea President Park Geun-hye arrives at the Seoul Central District Court on May 25, 2017, in Seoul. On Friday, a South Korean court jailed her for 24 years over a corruption scandal. (Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)Park was

removed from office

following a series of mass, nationwide protests

last year.

She was later found guilty of conspiring with an old school friend to extort multimillion-dollar payoffs from some of South Korea’s largest companies. The money was earmarked for her daughter’s education and some non-profit, family foundations.  

Still, about 1,000 of her supporters gathered outside the court today to protest the jail term, waving flags and banners.

Supporters of ousted President Park Geun-hye gather outside the court in Seoul after it delivered her jail sentence and imposed a fine of 18 billion won. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)The 66-year-old has

been in custody for more than a year, and was not in court for her sentencing. She maintains her innocence.

South Korea is ranked 51st out of 180 nations in the latest World Corruption Index. South Africa placed 71st, and Brazil came in at 96.


Separatists on trial

The Spanish government has lost its initial bid to extradite Carles Puigdemont from Germany on a charge of rebellion, but is not backing away from plans to put Catalan’s separatists on trial.

A regional court in northern Germany ruled yesterday that a European arrest warrant for the deposed president of Catalan was “inadmissible” because the equivalent German charge of high treason involves violence — something that was absent from the Catalonian independence referendum.

Puigdemont, who was arrested March 25 as he was travelling from Finland to his new home in Belgium, was released today on $117,000 bail. He must surrender his passport and remain in the country while the court considers another Spanish demand to extradite him on a lesser charge of misuse of public funds.

Former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, right, and former member of the Government of Catalonia Clara Ponsati attend a news conference in Brussels in October 2017 after fleeing Spain. (Yves Herman/Reuters)Addressing the media outside the gates of a prison in Neumuenster, the ex-president said Spain’s “violent and repressive” strategy had failed.

“It’s a shame for Europe to still have political prisoners,” Puigdemont said. “The time for dialogue has arrived … it’s time to do politics.”

But if Spanish authorities have been chastened by the setback, it’s difficult to detect.

On Thursday, they indicted the former head of the Catalan police — lately hailed as a hero — for belonging to a “complex” criminal organization — to whit, the independence movement.

Josep Lluís Trapero, the ex-head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, received commendations for his force’s response to two August 2017 attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, and the subsequent manhunts that saw five Islamic militants shot dead.

Josep Lluis Trapero, chief of the Catalan regional police ‘Mossos D’Esquadra,’ gives a press conference in Barcelona in August 2017. He now stands accused of aiding and abetting Catalan separatists by failing to close down polling stations during the independence vote. (Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)Now he stands accused of

aiding and abetting Catalan separatists by failing to close down polling stations and seize ballot boxes during the independence vote, or stop crowds from vandalizing vehicles belonging to Spain’s national police.

Two other members of the Mossos face similar charges.  

However, the next legal battleground will be in Scotland, where Puigdemont’s former education minister is also fighting an extradition request on charges of rebellion and corruption.

Clara Ponsati, a 61-year-old professor and and ex-head of the School of Economics and Finance at the University of St. Andrews, was arrested on a European warrant on March 28. She had initially fled to Belgium, alongside Puigdemont, last October.

Following a bail hearing in Edinburgh last week, her lawyer Aamer Anwar told reporters that Ponsati was mystified by the allegations.

Catalonia’s former education minister Clara Ponsati gestures after being securing bail following an extradition hearing in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters)“These charges are politically motivated and a grotesque distortion of the truth,”

Anwar said. “She cannot believe that she is being held responsible for the violence that took place on the day of the referendum.”

Sympathy for the Catalan independence movement has always been strong in Scotland — given the obvious parallels. And several prominent members of the Scottish National Party were on hand to lend their support during Ponsati’s brief court appearance.

A crowdfunding campaign for her defence raised more than £170,000 in just a few hours, and now stands at £232,000 — $414,000 Cdn.

Ponsati walks from the Sheriff Court in Edinburgh with her lawyer Aamer Anwar, right, on March 28. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Ponsati’s

extradition hearing opens next week. Anwar, a noted human right lawyer, has indicated that he intends to

put the Spanish legal system on trial

and argue that it is not free and independent, but rather under the control of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Anwar adds that the case could drag on for months or years, winding its way through the U.K. and European courts.

The Puigdemont government was in power for 655 days. And its self-proclaimed Catalan Republic lasted only a few hours.


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Skripals recovering

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia have made a remarkable recovery after being poisoned with a nerve agent, and both are reportedly out of immediate danger.

Dr. Christine Blanshard, the Medical Director at Salisbury District Hospital, issued a statement this morning confirming that the former Russian intelligence officer and double agent is now on the mend.

“He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” it read.

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal is shown during a court proceeding in Moscow in 2006. (Yuri Senatorov/Kommersant/AFP/Getty Images)The update comes a day after

Yulia made her first public comments since the March 4 attack, saying that she had awakened “over a week ago,” and is “glad to say my strength is growing daily.”

Both father and daughter remain in hospital.

The statements confirm reports of their improved health in the Russian media earlier this week, which featured a recording of a phone conversation between Yulia and her cousin Viktoria. At the time, British authorities were still saying that both the Skripals were in critical condition.

Not all the news is good, however, as it appears that there were fatalities in the attack — a cat and two guinea pigs.

Yulia Skripal and her father’s cat Nash Van Drake, which was put down after being taken to the U.K. Ministry of Defence labs. (Facebook)The pets were

sealed off inside the Skripal’s house as emergency workers tried to contain the damage from the nerve agent that had been smeared on the front door.

On Wednesday, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman had raised pubic questions about their well-being.

“Where are the pets? What’s their condition?,” asked Maria Zakharova. “This is about living creatures, and if a toxic chemical agent was indeed used in the house they should have been hurt.”

Last night, The Sun newspaper reported that the cat, a black Persian named Nash Van Drake, was found alive but in a “distressed state” when investigators finally made their way inside, several days after the poisonings. He was taken to the nearby U.K. Ministry of Defence labs at Porton Down to be tested.

Members of the emergency services wearing protective clothing work near the bench where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned in Salisbury, Britain, on March 4. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)The cat was later put down and his body incinerated due to the

danger of contamination.

The two unnamed guinea pigs reportedly died from dehydration, and were also cremated.

All of which has the Russians alleging a cover-up, and demanding a further explanation.

The animals were “important evidence,” the Foreign Ministry’s Zakharova said in a Facebook post, questioning why their bodies were disposed of.

“They are really ‘important witnesses’ when it comes to a chemical substance, which, in a number of versions, could have been used in the Skripals’ house,” she added.

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia holds up a British report on the Salisbury Incident as he speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the situation between Britain and Russia on Thursday. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)The controversy overshadowed a perhaps

more significant report in this morning’s Times of London. The paper says British allies were provided secret information that identified the

source of the novichok nerve agent used in the attack

— a Russian military research facility in Shikhany, in the country’s southwest.

The top secret briefing convinced 28 countries, including the United States and Canada, to expel more than 150 Russian diplomats as punishment for the attack on the Skripals.


Quote of the moment

“Almost certainly it’s attractive to the birds. They must be able to see it — that’s the only reason it would exist.”

Jamie Dunning, an ornithologist at the University of Nottingham, on his recent discovery that puffin beaks are fluorescent.

A puffin nests on Bempton Cliffs near Bridlington, northeast England. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Canada adds 32,000 jobs in March, mostly full time (CBC)
  • Chinese sperm donors must now be Communist Party loyalists (South China Morning Post)
  • Right-wing attacks rattle trendy Berlin neighbourhood (Deutsche Welle)
  • Sedins’ retirement in Swede parting for Canucks fans (Vancouver Sun)
  • New book translates lyrics by Abba, Rihanna and other pop stars into Latin (The Times)
  • Alleged fraudster made €1 million by ‘recycling’ bottles (Guardian)
  • A (scorching) review of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life (Johannesburg Review of Books)
  • Tinky Winky tragedy: the sad end of a Teletubbies star (The Sun)
  • Spanish woman leaves car in parking lot for 9 years, faces €28,000 fee (El Pais)

Today in history

April 6, 2000: Is wrestling too raunchy for kids?

As the new millennium dawned, the World Wrestling Federation was “more popular, more vulgar and raunchier than ever.” But the coarse language and sexualized storylines on its broadcasts had some viewers complaining to the CRTC, and stars like Chris Jericho and Bret “The Hitman” Hart worrying about the children. How much lower could pro-wrestling sink? Well, Wrestlemania 23 was still seven years away.

Some parents, principals and even wrestlers think so. Footage: World Wrestling Entertainment, Eastern Championship Wrestling 3:04


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NEWS

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April 6, 2018 at 02:13PM

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