New Twists in Arms Deal Investigations
Mail & Guardian
Deputy President Jacob Zuma has finally denied that he met Schabir Shaik and French arms dealer Alain Thetard at a Durban hotel in March 2000 -- three months after the Mail & Guardian published the fact that the Scorpions were investigating whether Zuma had solicited a bribe at that meeting. Zuma had vehemently denied the allegations, but declined to answer questions about whether the meeting took place.
Now, in a response to a parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance's Raenette Taljaard, Zuma has formally denied the meeting.
"I did not meet Alain Thetard on March 11 2000 in Durban or anywhere else in South Africa," Zuma said in his written reply.
"During my tenure as MEC for Economic Affairs and Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal I have met with representatives of Thomson-CSF [the French defence company for which Thetard worked] as well as with other companies.
"Some of these companies have requested to see me even after my tenure as MEC to brief me on how the investments they had made were progressing. In this regard in my capacity as Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, and previously as the MEC for Economic Affairs and Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal, I have interacted with a large number of people but am unable to personally remember the names of all of them. Alain Thetard may have been part of one of the Thomson CSF delegations."
Zuma said he had never discussed with Shaik or anyone else the issue of protecting Thales or any other company or individual from the Joint Investigating Team's investigation into the strategic defence procurement. He said that the Scorpions had refused to confirm or deny that they were investigating him.
In reply to a separate question, President Thabo Mbeki declined to order a commission of inquiry into the allegations against Zuma, citing the cost, a lack of direct evidence and the fact that other agencies might be more appropriate.
Meanwhile, new information on alleged irregularities in the tender process may emerge following the withdrawal by the auditor general of his appeal against a court order for him to release documentation gathered by the Joint Investigating Team (led by the auditor general) for its November 2001 report that exonerated government of wrongdoing.
Richard Young, director of a small local defence company that had lost out to Thomson in the bid for one of the subcontracts, has fought to prove that his bid was rejected unfairly.
Last year he launched a groundbreaking application in terms of access to information legislation to compel the auditor general to release information relating to his bid and all drafts of the report.
Allegations had been made -- denied by Auditor General Shauket Fakie - that material changes were made to the final report following the release of drafts to the government.
A Pretoria judge ordered the release of the documents to Young in November last year, giving the auditor general 40 court days to comply. Fakie then appealed.
Now it appears as if legal advice from top constitutional lawyer Gilbert Marcus persuaded Fakie that he had little chance of success.
Young commented: "The respondents [the auditor general] have left it to the final hour to withdraw their request for leave to appeal ... Now they advise that they require a further 40 court days for the execution of the order. This will imply a period of six months from when the judgement was issued.
"I first made application for access in November 2001. It took a year to get to court and a further six months to get access. Thus it will take 18 months, as well as a great deal of time and money, to get access."
With acknowledgements to Sam Sole and Mail & Guardian.