Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2002-11-29 Reporter: Sam Sole Editor:

Scorpions Probe Jacob Zuma


Publication  Mail & Guardian
Date 2002-11-29
Reporter Sam Sole
Web Link


The Scorpions are actively investigating Deputy President Jacob Zuma for an alleged attempt to secure a bribe of R500 000 a year from French defence giant Thomson-CSF, the Mail & Guardian can reveal.

The alleged bribe was to be paid in return for Zuma's "protection of Thomson-CSF" during investigations into South Africa's scandal-plagued multi-billion rand arms deal. The bribe was also allegedly to secure the "permanent support of JZ for future projects".

Thomson-CSF (now renamed Thales) and its South African subsidiary African Defence Systems (ADS) were part of the German Frigate Consortium, which successfully bid for a R6-billion contract to supply the South African Navy with four new corvette warships.

Thomson and ADS had become one focus of investigations because of the conflict of interest involving the most influential figure in the arms deal process, Department of Defence acquisitions chief Shamin "Chippy" Shaik and his brother Schabir, who is a director and shareholder in ADS.

Startling details of the allegations against Zuma are contained in a confidential affidavit filed by a senior Scorpions prosecutor, Advocate William Downer, in August last year.

The M&G obtained a copy this week.

The affidavit was tabled in camera to judges in four countries in support of raids by the Scorpions that took place simultaneously on October 9 last year at Thomson's premises in France, Turkey, Mauritius and South Africa - and at Schabir Shaik's home and at his Nkobi Group headquarters in Durban.

Further evidence is contained in a summons issued in June this year to Schabir Shaik to answer questions that the Scorpions are asking in connection with the Zuma investigation. Shaik is under enormous pressure to cooperate, but is contesting the summons.

Together Downer's affidavit and the summons reveal how Shaik, Zuma and Alain Thetard, then Thomson's Southern Africa chairperson, allegedly met in a hotel in Durban on March 11 2000 to discuss the question of Thomson making an "effort" on behalf of Zuma in return for his protection.

Among documents seized by the Scorpions, and attached to the summons, is a letter hand-written by Thetard in which he describes the cloak-and-dagger meeting, which included a coded phrase that would signal that Zuma did indeed seek the pay-off that Shaik had allegedly requested at an earlier meeting.

Reporting to his superiors in France and Mauritius, Thetard wrote: "I had asked SS (Shabir Shaik) to obtain from JZ (Zuma) a clear confirmation, or failing which an encoded declaration (the code had been defined by me), in order to validate the request by SS at the end of September 1999. Which was done by JZ (in an encoded form)."

The amount is reflected in the letter as "500k ZAR per annum (until the first payment of dividends by ADS)".

According to a witness cited in Downer's affidavit, the letter was encrypted before it was faxed to Thomson's head office.

Evidence from Thetard's Diners' Club card shows he was at the Marine Parade Holiday Inn on March 11 2000, a Saturday.

The M&G has established that Zuma was indeed in Durban around that time - he addressed a conference in Durban on the Friday.

Downer's affidavit describes how, according to evidence under oath, there was great concern at Thomson in South Africa about the allegations of corruption in respect of the contracts awarded to ADS, following a City Press article to that effect during February 2000.

Faxes flew back and forth between South Africa and France concerning how to react. Later that year, as the pressure of various investigations into the arms deal built up, Shaik held a "damage control" meeting with Thomson in Mauritius.

Although no evidence is presented of direct payment to Zuma, Downer's affidavit states that on September 30 1999 Thomson International paid Shaik's Nkobi R50 000 for each of 10 shares in the local Thomson company - total of R5000 000. A day before Thomson had paid only R1 000 a share.

The suspect transaction took place on the same day on which Shaik allegedly first raised "our understanding re Deputy President Zuma" with Thetard.

Downer's affidavit states: "There is thus a striking disparity in the value of the shares in transactions on two successive days. This calls into question whether the R500 000 reflected on 30 September 1999 is a genuine transaction and whether it is not more properly related to the R500 000 bribe..."

The summons to Shaik indicates that the Scorpions also want to question him on "the circumstances surrounding the transaction in which Nkobi entered into a service provider agreement with Thales in Mauritius, and in which Nkobi's annual fee charged to Thales was R500 000..."

Downer also discloses that Thomson auditors Arthur Andersen testified under oath that they had confronted Thetard during an audit conducted in the first quarter of 2000 as a result of a report to them concerning Thetard's involvement in possible bribery involving Zuma. Thetard had denied the allegation.

But not only do the Scorpions suspect a bribe to Zuma was paid, or at least discussed. They also suggest Zuma may have a hidden interest in the company.

Referring to the secret fax, Downer states in his affidavit : "The payment of money actually ‘until ADS started paying dividends' indicates some sort of link between Mr X (as Zuma was called in Downers's initial affidavit) and ADS dividends."

He suggests that this might be a "cover link" via Nkobi and states : "It should be borne in mind that the reasonable suspicion of an Nkobi link is strengthened by the fact that payments from various Nkobi entities to Mr X have been discovered..."

Zuma has long been close to Shaik, who has previously admitted that he manages Zuma's financial affairs. However, according to Downer's affidavit, more than R90 000 in payments on behalf of Zuma by various Nkobi entities had been identified, up to the end of 1999. Only R15 000 had been repaid, he claimed.

Responding to questions about the investigation, Scorpions spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said the agency did not comment on "investigations in progress". He said the matter would be referred in due course for a decision on whether to prosecute anyone.

A decision to charge Zuma - who is expected to retain the deputy presidency a the African National Congress national conference in Stellenbosch next month, and who heads the government's moral regeneration programme - will send shockwaves through the party and the country. It could be seen by some as an attempt to sideline a rival to President Thabo Mbeki.

Shaik this week told the M&G he is being placed under enormous pressure to testify to the Scorpions about the allegations against Zuma. Shaik is currently facing charges relating to the alleged illegal possessions of state documents found during last year's raid on his home.

Another indication of how seriously the Scorpions are pursuing the investigation is that they have recently subpoenaed and interviewed more than a dozen current and former employees fo the Nkobi Group, including financial director Colin Isaacs and co-director Phambili Gama.

The summons to Shaik suggests Zuma was involved in the deal from early on. It requires Shaik to answer questions about the meeting held at Nkobi offices with Thompson-CSF France on November 18 1998 at which the subject matter was the sale of 10% of Thompson's share in ADS to Nkobi. Zuma was allegedly present.

And an unidentified witness, described in Downer's affidavit as "very scared and reluctant", reportedly claims that in early 1999 she overheard a telephone conversation between Schabir Shaik and a person believed to be Zuma. During the conversation, Shaik allegedly told Zuma that "they really need help to land this deal".

Finally, letters attached to the Shaik summons provide some indirect suggestion that Thompson might - at least later - have got cold feet about the alleged deal with Zuma. In one letter, written by Shaik to Thetard in October 2000, Shaik complains in the following cryptic terms : "My party is now saying that we are renegeding (sic) on an agreed understanding, this request already having been agreed upon by (Thompson international head Jean-Paul) Perrier.

Shaik goes on : "Several months no real action. I share the sentiments that with my party that he feels let down, this is particularly unpleasing given the positive response from Mr Perrier, consequently as my party proceeded to an advanced stage on a certain sensitive matter which was required to be resolves (sic)."

With acknowledgements to Sam Sole and Mail & Guardian.