Former South African President Jacob Zuma on Monday told an inquiry panel that he had been a victim of character assassination “for 20 years” and denied allegations of corruption, AFP reported. Zuma had resigned from his post in February 2018 after facing severe pressure from his own party. The inquiry panel was set up by Zuma himself in January 2018.

Zuma said he had never broken the law in his dealings with the Gupta family. He said the businessmen were his friends. Zuma claimed there was a conspiracy against him by enemies who had tried to get rid of him for over two decades.

“I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” Zuma told the panel led by judge Raymond Zondo. “I have been given every other name and I have never responded to those issues. I believe it is important that we respect one another.”

The inquiry commission had invited Zuma to present his side after other witnesses had given strong evidence against him, AFP reported.

Zuma was accused, among other things, of using government money to build a luxurious private home. Under his rule, economic growth slowed down and unemployment reached record levels.

The Indian-born Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – are known to be close to Zuma and were accused of “state capture”, a term coined to describe how the family allegedly used its relationship with Zuma to influence state contracts, Cabinet appointments and secure several multimillion-dollar deals in the country.

A witness claimed that Zuma accepted a monthly $2,200 bribe in luxury bags from a contracting firm trying to evade police investigation, while a former minister alleged that Zuma had pushed policies designed to benefit the Gupta family.

“I never did anything with them [Guptas] unlawfully, they just remained friends,” Zuma said on Monday, according to Reuters. “Never, never did I discuss any matter that does not belong to them. They were businesspeople and successful businesspeople. I’m not a businessperson, I know nothing about business, I’m a politician, I know something about politics.”