Gatekeepers in Place to Keep Media Off Legal Teams' Backs
High-powered legal teams are gearing up for the biggest courtroom battle since that of apartheid-era Defence Minister Magnus Malan.
Retired Judge Hillary Squires has been booked for the Schabir Shaik trial because of the likelihood of it dragging on in the Durban High Court for months.
Shaik, a member of one of Durban's most prominent struggle families, is in essence charged with acting as bagman between Zuma and French company Thint (formerly Thales), paying Zuma bribes between 1995 and 2001.
The first corruption charge against Shaik relates to general acts of corruption between 1994/95 and 2001 (when Shaik's Nkobi Holdings offices were raided by the Scorpions). The state alleges Shaik paid more than R1.2-million to Zuma or his representatives for assisting or attempting to assist Shaik in his business dealings.
The second charge, fraud, relates to the writing off of around R900000 by Shaik from Nkobi's books. The final charge, also corruption, relates to an encrypted fax from Thales stating that Shaik had brokered a deal whereby Zuma would give them protection from any investigation in return for R500000 a year.
As the trial date nears, both prosecutors and Shaik's defence team are being kept well out of the public eye. Sipho Ngwema, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), is gatekeeper-in-chief for the prosecution, keeping the media away from prosecutors Billy Downer, Santosh Manilal and Anton Steynberg.
"Speak to Sipho. His job is to keep you guys off our backs," a member of the prosecuting team said this week.
Steynberg is a deputy director of public prosecutions who has been involved in the Shaik case for more than a year. Downer has been involved in the case "since the very beginning" in 2001, while Manilal is a Durban-based advocate who works for the Directorate of Special Operations — the Scorpions.
Shaik's brother Yunus, a former Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration commissioner who now runs a legal practice from his Johannesburg home, is the gatekeeper for the other side.
He is tasked with keeping the media — several hundred are expected to pack into the Durban High Court's courtroom A or B for the trial — off both his brother's back and those of Advocate Francois van Zyl and instructing attorney Reeves Parsee.
Parsee, though, is no stranger to publicity, having dealt with a large number of High Court trials. He is currently representing mercenary accused Simon Witherspoon who, along with several members of a farmwatch organisation, is charged with beating a Midlands saddle thief to death.
Van Zyl is a specialist in representing multinationals and other big corporates in corruption cases. A former attorney-general of the Western Cape, he was involved in the Masterbond trial and represented one of the companies in the Lesotho Highlands corruption trial. He has also scored successes against the NPA's Asset Forfeiture Unit, the most recent of which saw the unit being ordered to return R6-million to a Cape Town couple.
With acknowledgements to Paddy Harper and the Sunday Times.