South African police are investigating President Jacob Zuma over a $23 million taxpayer-funded refurbishment at his rural homestead, according to parliamentary papers.
In a written response to lawmakers published Monday, police confirmed that an investigation into spending at the property “has been initiated”.
Zuma, who was reelected in May, has insisted that he had no knowledge of the work, including the construction of a swimming pool, private clinic and amphitheatre.
His government insists all the refurbishments at the homestead in Nkandla in the southeastern province of KwaZulu Natal were security related.
The issue has become a lightning rod for criticism of Zuma’s administration, which is seen by many South Africans as tolerant of corruption and incompetence.
Opposition leader Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance laid the corruption charges against Zuma in March.
The move came after public ombudsman Thuli Madonsela ruled that Zuma had “benefited unduly” from the construction, ordering him to pay part of the cost.
At the time, Maimane said: “There can be no doubt that this Nkandla palace was built on corruption by the president for the president with our money.”
He and other opposition politicians have repeatedly called for Zuma to resign.
Monday’s confirmation of the investigation came with few details.
“The investigation in this regard has been initiated and no further information can be disclosed at this juncture as the matter is still sub judice,” Police Minister Nathi Nhleko said in a written statement to parliament.
“Suffice to say that all processes have been followed.”
Maimane said on Monday: “Now the police must do their jobs.”
Police spokesman Solomon Makgale told AFP that investigations into the matter were still “at a very early stage”.
The president’s spokesman refused to comment.
Zuma has faced both political and public wrath over the excessive spending, in a country battling rampant unemployment and inequality.
When he appeared before parliament in August, opposition parties chanted “pay back the money” repeatedly until riot police were called in.
Zuma has not returned to parliament since — provoking even more criticism from lawmakers, who last week demanded to know when the president would reappear.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa responded to the calls, saying: “For as long as the type of behaviour that one is getting from members of the parties in opposition persists, we will not have a good relationship between parliament and the executive.”
This is not the first time Zuma has faced criminal charges.
In 2009, 700 charges of corruption relating to a controversial multi-billion dollar arms deal were dropped against Zuma, although a wider judicial inquiry has been opened.
There have since been repeated attempts by the opposition to have them reinstated.
In 2006, Zuma was acquitted of raping a 31-year-old HIV positive woman at his home.