Judge Nkosinathi Chili has been appointed to preside over the arms deal-related trial of former President Jacob Zuma, replacing Piet Koen who recused himself in the Pietermaritzburg high court on Monday.
Chili has been a judge since 2014.
After Koen stood down, the new judge entered court and, after brief proceedings, adjourned the trial to April 17.
“I will have to avail myself,” he joked when lead prosecutor Billy Downer explained that Koen had previously set that date for the resumption of the trial and questioned whether Chili was available.
Zuma and his co-accused, French arms company Thales, were not present in court, having been previously excused by Koen because Monday was a holding date.
Koen’s recusal was because he had previously expressed views with regards to the merits of Zuma’s then pending private prosecution of Downer for contravening the NPA Act for allegedly “leaking” his private medical information to journalist Karyn Maughan.
In his ruling last year dismissing Zuma’s special plea aimed at Downer’s removal, Koen made some “strong comments” about the disclosure of Zuma’s medical report and essentially said there was no merit to Zuma’s complaint that it was a breach of the act.
Zuma’s legal team had indicated that Zuma could no longer be prosecuted by Downer because he was criminally prosecuting him.
Koen said because he had already favoured a “particular interpretation of the factual issues” relating to the private prosecution, it was in the interests of sound administration of justice, the constitution and his conscience that he recuse himself.
Zuma’s lawyer Nqabayethu Buthelezi told Chili on Monday that they were definitely proceeding with an application for Downer’s removal and papers were being drafted.
Downer and Maughan have both launched applications to effectively quash Zuma’s charges against them. Those applications have been set down for March.