JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Former South African president Jacob Zuma will appeal a high court decision to deny him a permanent stay of prosecution on charges related to a $2 billion arms deal, his lawyers said on Tuesday.
Zuma, in office from 2009-2018, had applied for the stay of prosecution for alleged fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to the deal to buy European military equipment for South Africa's armed forces in the 1990s.
On Friday the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed the application by Zuma and his co-accused, French arms company Thales.
"Mr Zuma elects to exercise the full extent of his constitutional rights, which includes the right to appeal (this) ... decision," Zuma's lawyer, Thabani Masuku, told the court, where pre-trial proceedings were set to start.
Zuma's lawyers and state prosecutors had agreed to provisionally set down Feb. 4, 2020 as a trial start date. But State prosecutor Billy Downer said the state intended to oppose the appeal, potentially delaying any trial deep into 2020.
Ousted by the ruling African National Congress in February 2018 after two terms in power marked by corruption allegations and economic stagnation, Zuma has claimed the charges are a politically motivated conspiracy.
He repeated the claim during testimony at a judicial corruption inquiry July as well as in his few public appearances to rally his supporters.
Outside court on Tuesday, Zuma ascended a mobile stage to a chorus of ululations and his campaign song, telling the crowd of a couple of hundred that he deserved a clear explanation of why his stay of prosecution application was denied.
"I'm used to this kind of treatment but I don't want to say too much," Zuma told the crowd. "When you are a black person in this country you will be attacked and mistreated all the way to the grave."
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla; editing by John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood)