South African former African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader, Julius Malema
South African ANC renegade, Julius Malema was charged with money laundering on Wednesday in a high-profile corruption court case his supporters say is part of a political plot to silence the fierce critic of President Jacob Zuma.
Prosecutors at the provincial magistrates' court in Polokwane, 350 km (220 miles) north of Johannesburg, said Malema had "improperly received" 4.2 million rand ($514,000) in a conspiracy involving government tenders.
But they did not file any other charges, contrary to media reports that he also faced trial for fraud and corruption, reports Reuters.
Scores of police deployed razor wire to block more than 1,000 Malema supporters from entering the police station and court in Polokwane, the capital of Malema's native Limpopo province.
The trial of Malema, who has backed wildcat miners' strikes and has been pushing for nationalization of the mines, is seen as one of the biggest since apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994.
The 31-year-old, who appeared in a grey suit and white shirt, was ordered released on bail of 10,000 rand after a 10 minute hearing.
Malema, ousted as leader of the ANC Youth League in April for ill-discipline, has returned from the political wilderness with a vengeance in the past several weeks, stepping up public criticism against Zuma and the ANC hierarchy.
The ANC rebel had been under investigation for months for suspected corruption, fraud and money laundering relating to government contracts his political allies secured in Limpopo - a province where the Treasury says hundreds of millions of dollars go missing each year due to suspected graft.
His penchant for luxury cars, flashy Swiss watches and champagne parties has also attracted the attention of South Africa's Revenue Service, which said at the weekend he owed near $2 million in unpaid taxes.
Malema has blamed Zuma's government for police shooting dead 34 striking platinum miners on August 16 at Lonmin's Marikana mine in the deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid.
"This case is an abuse of power by Zuma against Malema," supporter Sonett Masemola told Reuters outside the court.
Malema's backers held a raucous vigil on Tuesday night. Many said he was being brought to trial to sideline him ahead of an ANC leadership vote in December where Zuma is seeking re-election as head of the dominant party in South Africa.