The former financial adviser of Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s governing African National Congress leader, has been freed from prison on medical grounds.

Schabir Shaik was jailed in 2005 for making corrupt payments to Mr Zuma, who was then sacked as deputy president.

Mr Zuma has since become ANC leader and is their candidate for president in April’s elections.

He still faces charges of corruption – in connection to the 1999 multi-billion dollar arms deal – which he denies.

Shaik, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail, has spent most of his 28 months’ detention in hospital.

He was carried into the family home from an ambulance on a stretcher on Tuesday morning, South African Press Association reports.

“Our brother is ill and the family requests that we be allowed the space to take care of him,” his family said in a statement.

The Department of Correctional Services did not give reasons for granting the parole, but constitutionally it can only be used when someone is terminally ill.

According to Reuters news agency, South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance has called for a full disclosure.

“Mr Shaik is a high profile and controversial offender. While his medical condition is confidential, it would be appropriate for the Department of Correctional Services to disclose the grounds on which Mr Shaik qualified for medical parole,” the party said in a statement.

“This will do much to dispel the notion that double standards are being applied.”

In January 2007, the ex-ANC parliamentary whip, Tony Yengeni, was released from prison after serving just five months of a four-year fraud conviction in connection to the 1999 arms deal.

Correspondents say there was an outcry about the government’s commitment to fight graft when his sentence was cut on appeal and further reduced by a general amnesty.

Mr Zuma has remained popular despite the shadow of corruption hanging over him.

The 22 April polls are set to be the most interesting since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, ending years of white-minority rule.

A new opposition party – the Congress of the People (Cope) – was formed in December by ANC dissidents unhappy with Mr Zuma’s leadership.



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