JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Jacob Zuma, who swept to victory last week as leader of South Africa's ruling African National Congress party, was charged yesterday with corruption in a setback that could thwart his ambitions to rule the country.
The populist Zuma trounced President Thabo Mbeki in the ANC leadership contest, although the corruption case against him has been dragging on for years.
Officials of the National Prosecuting Authority said last week they had sufficient evidence to charge Zuma.
Zuma's lawyer, Michael Hulley, confirmed that charges were delivered yesterday to Zuma's home, the SABC television network reported. Zuma was not there at the time.
A local radio station, Talk 702, reported that he had been charged with corruption, tax evasion and racketeering. It said the case would go to trial in August.
Zuma's leadership victory made him heir-apparent for the presidency, with the ANC the dominant political force in South Africa. But a conviction on any of the charges would doom his chances.
Mbeki fired Zuma as deputy president in 2005 after Zuma's former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was convicted of graft in a multibillion-dollar arms deal.
Shaik was convicted of soliciting a yearly $72,500 bribe on Zuma's behalf from the French arms company Thint. He was also convicted of paying Zuma $187,500 to push his business interests. Zuma was charged with corruption later that year.
The case was thrown out of court on a technicality last year, but a court decision earlier this year opened the way for charges to be laid again.
Zuma's supporters in the ANC see the charges as politically driven by Mbeki to block Zuma from the top job, an accusation the president denies. Mbeki's supporters in the party say Zuma should not have been voted into the party leadership with the possibility of serious charges hanging over him.
Mbeki said last week that prosecutors had not communicated with him on whether Zuma would be charged. He said the ANC would have to meet and discuss the implications if charges were laid.
Mbeki also called on the international community and others to presume Zuma innocent unless proven guilty in court.
The charges may deepen tensions in the already-divided ANC and destabilize Mbeki's government, with two centers of power - the cabinet and the ANC's ruling committee - vying for dominance. Some figures in the Zuma camp are privately threatening to oust Mbeki before his term ends in 2009.
Prosecutors filed an affidavit two weeks ago outlining new evidence that bribes allegedly taken by Zuma were as much as three times higher than previously believed.
In an unrelated case, Zuma was acquitted of rape last year.