South Africa's Zuma in court on April 6 on graft charges

by Ben SHEPPARD

Johannesburg (AFP) - Former South African president Jacob Zuma is set to appear in court on April 6 to face corruption charges, police said Monday, in a case that could see him jailed.

Zuma is accused of taking kickbacks before he became president from the $5 billion (4.0 billion euro) purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment manufactured by five European firms.

He resigned as president on February 14 after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party turned against him following a nine-year reign marred by corruption allegations, an economic slowdown and diminished popularity.

"We can confirm that the summons has been served to the former president," Hangwani Mulaudzi, spokesman for the Hawks police investigation unit, told AFP.

"The case is going to be heard on April 6 at the Durban High Court. It is the formal charging."

Mulaudzi added that the former president would have to be present in court for the hearing.

Local media said Zuma's lawyers would appeal against the reinstatement of the charges, which date back to the 1990s.

Prosecutors dropped the charges in 2009, just months before Zuma became president.

They said that tapped phone calls between officials in then-president Thabo Mbeki's administration showed undue official interference in the case.

French firm Thales was also issued with a summons on Monday over the allegations and is due in court on the same day.

Zuma, 75, denies any wrongdoing, while Thales has declined to comment.

Zuma will face one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud -- all of which are punishable by lengthy custodial sentences.

- From high office to high court -

The charges relate to arms procurement deals struck by the government in the late 1990s and from which Zuma is accused of profiting corruptly to the tune of four million rand ($345,000, 280,000 euros).

In 2005, Zuma's former financial adviser Schabir Shaik was convicted for facilitating bribes over the contracts and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was later released on medical parole.

Zuma was deputy president from 1999 to 2005, when he was sacked by Mbeki.

The previously loyal ANC last weekend distanced itself from its former leader, saying that it was determined "to put the sad chapter of systemic corruption" behind the party.

Once in office, many of the graft allegations against Zuma centred on the Gupta business family, who are accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even influencing Zuma's ministerial appointments.

Zuma's successor Cyril Ramaphosa, a multi-millionaire former trade union leader, has admitted graft was a major problem in the previous government and vowed a clean-up.

In local polls in 2016, the ANC recorded its worst electoral result since coming to power in 1994 with Nelson Mandela at the helm as white-minority rule fell.

Zuma's hold over the ANC was shaken in December when his preferred successor -- his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma -- narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in a vote for the new party leader.