France May Aid Arms Probe
BusinessReport Editor in Paris - Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who has a cloud of corruption hanging over him, may yet have his day in court.
A legal process that could provide the Scorpions with witnesses crucial to their case against Zuma has started in France. The French government has appointed a senior magistrate to examine a request for help from the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (NDPP).
The South African agency has asked, among other things, that Alain Thetard and Jean Paul Perrier of Thales, the French arms manufacturer that allegedly paid bribes to Zuma via a South African company, testify in a South African court as state witnesses against the deputy president.
The NDPP recently said there was a prima facie case against Zuma, but it decided not to charge him because, it said, the prospects of winning the case were low.
The deputy president has accused the NDPP, with that statement, of finding him guilty of corruption without having the necessary evidence.
The Star understands that the NDPP's decision not to prosecute was taken because the Thales executives would not testify.
It emerged in Paris yesterday that the NDPP created problems for itself by not following proper channels required in country-to-country mutual legal assistance.
Requests for mutual legal assistance generally come from one judge to another and are sent through diplomatic channels. But in this case the examination of the request was delayed because it had not gone through the usual channels, The Star has learnt.
The senior magistrate appointed to process the South African request is Edith Boisette, a financial specialist.
This is the second time she has been asked to help in the arms deal investigation. The first occasion, in 2001, led to a raid of Thales offices in Paris. Thales has denied any involvement in corruption.
A French Justice Ministry spokesperson said Boisette had not been set a deadline. The examination of the request for assistance depended entirely on her and could take weeks or months.
The role of the government was simply to transmit the request, the spokesperson said.
Neither Boisette nor the ministry would comment on the content of the South African appeal. It is likely to include a request to question Thetard and Perrier, both named by the Scorpions in the arms deal investigation, and both still working at Thales' offices in Paris.
Perrier is one of three vice- presidents of the company, and is in charge of marketing.
Durban businessman Schabir Shaik has been charged with fraud, theft and corruption in connection with the arms deal. Out on bail, he is due back in court on September 25.
With acknowledgements to Alide Dasnois and The Star.