S. Africa's Zuma pleads not guilty in graft trial

Former South African president Jacob Zuma pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.

The long-awaited trial relates to a $2 billion arms deal in 1999, when Zuma was deputy president.

He is accused of accepting 500,000 rand, or around $34,000, annually from Thales in exchange for protecting the French arms company from an investigation into the deal.

But Zuma has rejected the 18 charges against him, saying he is the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt by a rival faction of the ruling African National Congress.

"I plead not guilty"

Outside the court Zuma's supporters, like Shirley Willemse, gathered once again to support the man who ruled South Arica for nine years.

"I believe in the president and his innocence and we don't stand here because we are a cult, or we are naive, or we are brainwashed. We are here to support, particularly me, first of all because he's from Nkandla and the president did a lot of things for us as Black people."

Zuma's defense team is calling for the recusal of state prosecutor Billy Downer.

The prosecution has requested more time to respond.

Thales was known as Thomson-CSF at the time of the deal.

It has said it has no knowledge of any transgression by any of its employees in relation to the awards of the contracts.

Its representative in court also pleaded not guilty to racketeering, corruption and money laundering charges.

The charges were filed against Zuma more than a decade ago.

They were set aside when he successfully ran for president and reinstated after his resignation.

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