Zuma Loses Bid for Letter
The Natal Witness
Issue not urgent, says judge
Deputy President Jacob Zuma's bid for a court order to get hold of a document allegedly implicating him in a bribe suffered a major setback on Monday.
Pretoria High Court Judge Jerry Shongwe struck the matter off the roll due to lack of urgency and instructed Zuma to pay the legal costs of the respondents - the National Director of Public Prosecutions, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Scorpions.
"No doubt the matter has attracted great public interest, but it does not necessarily make it urgent," Shongwe said.
At issue is a hand-written, encrypted fax in French in which Alain Thetard of the French company Thales (formerly known as Thomson CSF) allegedly said he, Zuma and the deputy president's financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, had a meeting in Durban in 2000.
On the agenda was - according to a decoded version included in a charge sheet in a criminal case against Shaik - the payment of R500 000 per year in exchange for Zuma's protection of Thomson CSF during the arms deal investigation and his permanent support for future projects.
In his affidavits, Zuma contended it was of vital importance that he obtained the hand-written version of the fax.
"... Without the manuscript, it will be well nigh impossible to test the respondents' contentions that the fax is genuine, accurate and incriminating...
"If may, for example, transpire that... the handwriting is not that of... Alain Thetard."
But Leonard McCarthy, investigating director of the Scorpions, said in his affidavit: "I deny that the handwriting is not that of Thetard... In the criminal prosecution of Shaik, the State may show, insofar it may be necessary, that the applicant did in fact attend such meeting."
Last month, the NDPP, Bulelani Ngcuka, announced Zuma would not be prosecuted, even though there was a prima facie case against him, because the State believed the prospects of success were not strong.
Zuma accused Ngcuka of pronouncing judgment upon him, and said Justice Minister Penuell Maduna seemed to support this conduct entirely.
Neil Tuchten, SC, for Zuma, said his client was the victim of a political process, and Ngcuka was doing a "political hatchet job".
"There is a deliberate policy at play to harm the dignity of the applicant."
Two days after the news conference the charge sheet against Shaik was released, containing material prejudicial to Zuma.
To protect his dignity, Zuma needed to be given the material he needed to respond to the allegations against him.
"As we speak, the applicant is suffering harm in the court of public opinion," Tuchten said.
But Marumo Moerane, SC, for the respondents, contended: "The courts should not be used (by) politicians to salvage their reputations in urgent applications."
With regard to Zuma's assertion that Ngcuka had already judged him, Moerane said: "(The NDPP) has the discretion as prosecuting authority to prosecute persons. The mere fact that there is a prima facie case does not oblige him to prosecute."
McCarthy and Ngcuka also denied Zuma's assertions that the NDPP made an offer on two different occasions which would result in Shaik pleading guilty to minor charges and that no prosecution be instituted against Zuma (and in one case also former Transport Minister Mac Maharaj).
According to McCarthy, to release the fax now could impede the prosecution of Shaik.
"At this stage the disclosure of the hand-written version could reasonably be expected to reveal or enable a person to ascertain the identity of a confidential source(s) of information in relation to the prosecution of Shaik and others with possible detrimental consequences to those persons and the process."
Moerane said the urgency was of Zuma's own making. He had long been aware that he was being investigated and of the existence of the fax.
Shongwe agreed. The deputy president did not regard the matter as urgent before, he said.
"Even in the face of publicity, he did not approach the court for an interdict or restraining order against whoever is involved in the matter," the judge said.
With acknowledgements to Sapa and The Natal Witness.