Corruption charges were dropped today against Jacob Zuma, favourite to become South Africa’s next president.
Head of the country’s prosecution service Mokotedi Mpshe said that the process had been manipulated for political reasons and that it was “neither possible nor desirable” to continue prosecuting Mr Zuma, who leads South Africa’s governing party.
The announcement follows fevered speculation in South African media that the charges would be dropped.
Mr Zuma was accused of accepting bribes to thwart a probe into wrongdoing by a French arms company. He has faced the possibility of trial since 2003, when prosecutors first said there was enough evidence.
Mr Zuma has maintained he is innocent and that he was being persecuted for political reasons. He has remained the presidential candidate for the African National Congress and is expected to ride his party’s dominance to power in the elections set for April 22.
Mr Zuma was initially charged in 2005, but that case was dismissed on a technicality in 2006. He was recharged in December 2007, just days after beating Thabo Mbeki to get elected as ANC president.
High Court Judge Chris Nicholson dismissed the case in September, implying the charges were the result of political meddling by Mr Mbeki.
Poor black South Africans embrace Mr Zuma as a man they believe understands their struggle. Born in the rural Zulu heartland, Mr Zuma lost his father when he was a young boy. His mother worked as a maid in Durban, and by the age of 15 Mr Zuma was doing odd jobs to help her.
He joined the ANC in 1959 and was arrested in 1963, convicted of conspiring to overthrow the white-minority government and sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island, the same prison where Nelson Mandela was held. He left South Africa in 1975 and spent 12 years in exile.
In 2006, Mr Zuma was acquitted of raping a family friend. But he outraged Aids activists by testifying that he had unprotected, consensual sex with the HIV-positive woman and then took a shower in the belief that it would protect him from the virus.