JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Firebrand South African politician Julius Malema proclaimed his innocence Wednesday after appearing in a regional court Wednesday on a charge of money laundering in connection with a 52 million rand ($6.5 million) government contract awarded to a company his family trust partly owns. He was given 10,000 rand ($1,250) bail.
"I have nothing to hide. I've never been part of criminal activity," Malema said to a crowd of supporters outside the court building after he made his appearance. "They have nothing against me ... They are wasting time."
The rabble-rousing politician is the most prominent critic of South African President Jacob Zuma and he says the charges are politically motivated at a time when he's become outspoken about the labor unrest in South Africa's mining industry. He says the charges are meant to shut him up after he threatened to make the mines ungovernable. Malema was expelled from the ruling African National Congress party earlier this year for sowing disunity.
Malema said he was told he would face charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering, but once in court on Wednesday was told he'd only be charged on one count of money laundering. The crowd cheered when he said the charge is not serious. Malema could face a maximum fine of 100 million rand ($1.25 million) and up to 30 years in prison.
Malema lashed out at Zuma.
"You must make sure that Jacob Zuma does not become the president of the ANC," Malema said Wednesday, speaking of Zuma's bid to be reelected the party president later this year. "We must remove him as president and then charge him."
Malema had turned himself into police in Polokwane, in South Africa's northeast, early Wednesday before entering the regional court. When he entered the courtroom people there started cheering. Vigils were held through the night for him, where supporters sang songs against Zuma. Malema's next court date is Nov. 30.
In a separate case, the South African Revenue Service is also charging Malema with unpaid taxes and interest of 16 million rand ($2 million.)
Malema's four business associates appeared in court Tuesday on charges including fraud, corruption and money laundering for the 52 million rand ($6.5 million) awarded to the company On Point Engineering for road services in Limpopo province. They were granted a bail of 40,000 rand ($5,000) each.
A draft of the charge sheet said Malema benefited from the bid paid to On Point engineering and used it to fund the purchase of a farm that cost nearly 4 million rand ($500,000) and to make a payment for a luxury car.
Last week police surrounded Malema and threatened to arrest him when he arrived at a stadium to address striking mine workers who were meeting to vote on a wage deal. Malema was forced to leave before addressing the crowd of thousands. Nearly six weeks of strikes by workers at the platinum mine saw violence that killed 46 people.
Malema said that he would travel to Rustenburg Thursday to support local miners there who are striking.