Former South African President Jacob Zuma jailed for 15 months

A South African top court has found former President Jacob Zuma (pictured) in contempt of court following his refusal to appear before a graft panel.

"The Constitutional Court can do nothing but conclude that Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court," Judge Sisi Khampepe said.

The BBC reported that Zuma has been sentenced to 15 months by the country's apex court.

The Constitutional Court is reported to have found him guilty of contempt after defying the court's order to appear at an inquiry into corruption while he was president.

Zuma's time in power, which ended in 2018, was dogged by graft allegations, the BBC said.

It added that businessmen were accused of conspiring with politicians to influence the decision-making process.

The former president made one appearance at the inquiry into what has become known as "state capture" but then refused to appear subsequently.

The inquiry headed by Justice Raymond Zondo asked the Constitutional Court to intervene, the BBC added.

It is not clear if Zuma will be arrested.

In a separate legal matter, Zuma pleaded not guilty last month in his corruption trial involving a USD5 billion arms deal from the 1990s.

The former president in May pleaded not guilty to corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering charges relating to a USD2 billion arms deal when he was deputy president.

Zuma, who was president between 2009-2018, faces 18 charges relating to the 1999 deal. He has rejected the charges and says he is the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt by a rival faction of the ruling African National Congress.

Zuma, who also faces a separate inquiry into corruption during his time as president, is accused of accepting 500,000 rands (USD34,000) annually from French arms company Thales, in exchange for protecting the company from an investigation into the deal.

"I plead not guilty," he said, staring into space after the prosecutor read out all the charges.

Zuma's defence team is calling for the recusal of state prosecutor Billy Downer, on the grounds that he has "no title to prosecute". The prosecution requested more time to make a response to that call, said the presiding judge.

Thales was known as Thomson-CSF at the time of the deal. It has said it had no knowledge of any transgressions by any of its employees in relation to the award of the contracts. Its representative in court also pleaded not guilty to the racketeering, corruption and money laundering charges the company faced.

The National Prosecuting Authority filed the charges against Zuma more than a decade ago, set them aside just before he successfully ran for president in 2009, then reinstated them a month after he resigned in early 2018.