The secretary-general of South Africa’s ruling ANC party was charged Friday with multiple counts of fraud, corruption and money laundering allegedly committed under the former president.
Ace Magashule is accused of stealing public money set aside to audit government houses with asbestos roofs in 2014 when he was premier of the Free State province.
The allegations revolve around the equivalent of $16.4 million (13.8 million euros) in asbestos audit contracts awarded during ex-president Jacob Zuma’s graft-tainted tenure of 2009-2018.
The hazardous roofs were never removed, leading investigators to believe that over $12 million had been pocketed.
Magashule is the highest-profile politician to face graft charges linked to the previous presidency after Zuma himself.
The 61-year-old — who was placed under an arrest warrant this week — turned himself into South Africa’s elite Hawks anti-corruption unit shortly before Friday’s court appearance.
He was charged with 21 charges of corruption and fraud, theft and money laundering and released on bail of 200,000 rands ($12,800), the National Prosecuting Authority said in a statement.
Seven other suspects have been arrested and granted bail in connection to the case, which has now been adjourned to February 19.
Dozens of supporters gathered outside the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court, holding banners and waving signs with photos of Magashule.
Scuffles broke out when they tried to access the building and push through a barbed-wire barrier set up by police.
Magashule walked into court without handcuffs, appearing calm in a dark suit and face mask as magistrates read out the charges.
He is a close friend of Zuma, who was forced out by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) over a slew of corruption scandals.
Zuma’s successor Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to root out corruption in South Africa and recently accused the ANC of being “number one” when it comes to graft.
Magashule is part of an internal ANC faction of Zuma backers who fervently oppose Ramaphosa.
The NPA said investigations were “complete” for Magashule and 13 co-accused, and that at least three more suspects were expected to be arrested and charged.
The case is set to be transferred to the High Court at the next hearing in order to begin the trial.