AFP - South African prosecutors on Friday delayed an announcement on their corruption case against South Africa's likely next president Jacob Zuma, with general elections less than three weeks away.
The head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is set to go to trial in August on charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering linked to an arms scandal that has rocked South African politics for years.
The National Prosecuting Authority had earlier said it would announce Friday how it would proceed with the case, but spokesman Tlali Tlali told reporters the announcemnt had been delayed to Monday.
Local newspapers reported that prosecutors could drop the charges, after Zuma's lawyers presented new evidence that appears to vindicate his claim that he was the target of a political conspiracy involving former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
Tlali insisted that a decision had not yet been made.
"This decision could go either way," he said.
The charges centre on accusations that Zuma accepted bribes for protecting French arms company Thales in an investigation into a controversial multi-million-dollar weapons deal.
Since the investigation began in 2001, the charges have been repeatedly dropped and revived, while also roiling the country's political scene.
A court ruling last year -- since overturned -- implied that then-president Mbeki had interfered in Zuma's prosecution.
The ANC used the ruling to force Mbeki from office, leading his loyalists to launch a new breakaway party called the Congress of the People, which is challenging for power in the April 22.
As the polls near, the furure over the corruption scandal has grown.
One month ago Schabir Shaik, a wealthy businessman convicted of bribing Zuma, was released on medical parole less than three years into a 15-year sentence.
His release raised eyebrows because just a days earlier Zuma told a local newspaper that he might use medical grounds as a reason to parole Shaik, a close aide and financial adviser, if he became president.
Faced with the challenge of proving that he did not receive the bribes Shaik was convicted of giving him, Zuma's lawyers have brought new evidence to prosecutors, which would reportedly use tapped telephone conversations show that Mbeki had meddled in the case.
Even if prosecutors decide to press ahead with the charges, they face a scenario where they will be pursing the man who could next month have the power to appoint the head of their agency, raising concerns about conflicts of interests in this still-young democracy.
Despite the scandal clouding Zuma's campaign, a poll released Friday found the ANC was still expected to secure more than 64 percent of the vote, just shy of the two-thirds majority that it currently holds, which allows the party to push through constitutional amendments.
Opposition leader Helen Zille said the delay in the prosecutors' announcement was "the result of deep divisions within the NPA."
"Some in the NPA oppose withdrawing the case that they have so painstakingly built, while others believe the case is seriously compromised, or want to protect their jobs by dropping the charges," she said in a statement.
"It is essential, in the interests of saving our constitutional democracy, that all the information pertaining to this case is made fully available," she said.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace laureate who is seen as the voice of the national conscience, has repeatedly spoken out against moves to drop the charges, reiterating this week that he believed Zuma should stand trial.
"If he is innocent as he has claimed to be, for goodness sake, let it be a court of law that says so," Tutu said.