French Legal Eagle Eager to Get Her Hands on Zuma Case
Alide Dasnois, Estelle Ellis, Jeremy
Paris magistrate Edith Boizette is willing to work with the Scorpions in their investigation of the arms deal - if the French government gives the go-ahead.
Boizette, who heads the financial arm of the Paris magistrature, has agreed to a request by the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) for assistance in the investigation of French arms manufacturer Thales.
Thales is accused of negotiating bribes via a South African company to Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
She told The Star yesterday she was willing to take up the case and to work with the Scorpions team when they travel to Paris next month.
In parliament yesterday, Justice Minister Penuell Maduna was delighted at the news that the French prosecuting authorities had decided to assist in investigating allegations of corruption against Zuma.
"I'm happy that the French government has now decided to work with us in this regard ... I'm happy that we are indeed getting somewhere," Maduna said.
He also announced that a ministerial committee would probe allegations that National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid-regime spy.
However, Ngcuka denied during an interview on SABC3's Interface programme last night that such an investigation was to take place. He said the ministerial committee - which supervises the Scorpions - would be reviewing the unit's work, and this would include discussion of the allegations against him.
Reliable sources said yesterday that the team to travel to France would be led by advocate Billy Downer, who originally led the Zuma investigation. He will also prosecute Zuma's financial adviser and friend Schabir Shaik on charges of fraud, tax evasion and corruption.
Shaik is expected back in court on September 25.
An NDPP request to the French authorities, among others, is that Alain Thetard and Jean Paul Perrier of Thales should testify in a South African court as state witnesses against the deputy president.
The NDPP said recently that there was a prima facie case against Zuma, but decided not to charge him because of the slim prospect of winning the case. The Star understands that the decision was taken because the Thales executives would not testify.
As the investigating team prepare to go to Paris, their legal team are preparing to go to the Pretoria High Court next week to fight demands from Zuma that he be given a copy of the encrypted fax in which his alleged attempts to solicit a bribe from Thales is stipulated.
In terms of French law, an examining magistrate such as Boizette has wide powers, including the power to detain people in the course of an investigation.
However, the decision on how far the SA-France co-operation will go lies not with her, but with the French government. Boizette said that because the investigation concerned an armaments company, the inquiry might turn up information which should not be passed on to a foreign government.
"It is not for me to decide about this," she said.
She had asked the French Ministry of Justice to make a decision.
A French Justice Department spokesperson confirmed that the matter had been referred to his department.
Boizette previously worked on the arms deal investigation in 2001, when she ordered a search of the Thales offices in Paris. On that occasion she had been able to deal with the request for assistance rapidly, she said.
She had received the request in September 2001 and had responded with the information requested in March 2002.
She had not considered it necessary to refer the request for assistance to the minister of justice. But the new request involved more detail, she said.
In parliament, Maduna defended President Thabo Mbeki's refusal to comment on the Zuma saga, insisting that he was in a precarious position given the fluidity of the case against Zuma.
"The president's silence or reticence is logical, because you don't want him to say anything lest indeed he says one thing only to find further down the line that he has been wrong on it."
Maduna also dismissed reports that he had threatened to resign after a recent skirmish in a cabinet meeting with Zuma - who was chairing the meeting.
With acknowledgements to Alide Dasnois, Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Michaels, André Koopman, Ndivhuwo Khangale and The Star.