JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Jacob Zuma, who won a bitterly contested election for leadership of the ruling African National Congress, was ordered to stand trial on corruption and other charges related to a French weapons contract, his lawyer said Friday.
The case against Zuma could derail his election as South Africa's next president.
The country's top prosecutor was investigating allegations that in the 1990s, Zuma accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from the French company Thint to stop investigations into a multibillion-dollar arms deal with the government.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who lost a party election to Zuma last week, fired him as the country's deputy president in 2005 after Zuma's financial adviser was convicted of trying to elicit the bribe.
Charges against Zuma were thrown out last year on a technicality. He denies the allegations and says prosecutors trying to smear his name for political reasons.
His lawyer, Michael Hulley, said Zuma was to face various charges of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud.
Spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, Tlali Tlali, would not comment on whether an indictment had been served on Zuma.
Zuma, a popular former guerilla fighter, was acquitted of rape charges last year.
In a harshly worded statement emailed to the Associated Press, Hulley questioned the timing of the latest indictment and accused prosecutors of acting "with improper motive calculated to discredit" Zuma.
"The timing is calculated to quickly redress the popular support and call to leadership of the ANC which Mr Zuma's election so obviously demonstrates," he said.
The ANC leader is traditionally the party's presidential candidate, and its overwhelming backing has ensured victories first for Nelson Mandela in 1994, then Mbeki in 1999 and 2004. The constitution requires Mbeki stand down in 2009, but if he had won a third term as ANC leader, he would have been in a position to influence the choice of a successor.
Hulley said court summons was delivered to Zuma's Johannesburg home. The lawyer did not provide details of the charges but the counts of racketeering and money laundering appear to be new.
The investigations centered on a $7.1 billion deal to buy ships, submarines, helicopters, jets and other arms in 1999.