Shaik and Lawyers Argue Against TV Coverage
Wendy Jasson Da Costa, Ben Maclennan
The criminal case against Schabir Shaik has been postponed to Wednesday to allow the Durban High Court to hear argument on whether it should allow live television broadcasts.
The postponement came soon after the trial began on Monday morning in a courtroom packed with journalists and the public.
Shaik's four brothers sat together near the front of the court room behind a double bank of lawyers, while he himself sat with his legal team.
At the start of proceedings the leader of the prosecution team, Billy Downer, asked that charges against arms company Thint be withdrawn under an agreement with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
He also asked that the criminal matter against Shaik, who faces two counts of corruption and one of fraud, stand down to Wednesday to allow the hearing of e.tv's live-broadcast application.
Judge Hillary Squires granted both requests and extended Shaik's R1 000 bail to the end of the trial.
He dismissed a bid by the SABC to join in the e.tv application, saying it seemed the public broadcaster was bringing in a different issue by seeking permission for radio broadcasts as well.
Arguing for e.tv, advocate Gilbert Marcus said the broadcaster's application was about giving meaning to the requirement in the Criminal Procedure Act that a trial should take place in open court, and about giving content to the concept of open justice.
He said the act made an even more compelling case for live broadcasts than the reasons which led to the King Commission into cricket match fixing being thrown open to the electronic media.
He said the application was "not about causing disruption to proceedings".
The cameras would be unobtrusive and e.tv and other broadcasters would co-operate on feeds from the proceedings.
Some arrangement of microphones would be necessary.
"Apart from that, my lord, there will be no disruption or dislocation whatsoever."
He said the trial was of major public importance and a limited number of people could attend. In the 21st century there was simply no other medium of equivalent effectiveness to television and radio.
He said the issues of the trial were wider than those in the indictment, and were matters of the highest importance. If the State succeeded in establishing the charges against Shaik, it would have implications for "matters of governance" in South Africa.
Marcus was referring to the fact that Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who Shaik serves as financial adviser, has been repeatedly named in the indictment. The trial is likely to affect whether Zuma succeeds President Thabo Mbeki.
Meanwhile, in a short statement, Thint said: "The Thales group has always formally denied the charges. During this case, Thales has always co-operated with the South African justice (system) and remained confident in the outcome of these proceedings."
Thint lawyer Kessie Naidoo said Thint had given information to the State as requested and the charges had then been withdrawn unconditionally. At some stage during the trial someone would have to explain why the charges were withdrawn.
The NPA agreed in April to drop the charges against Thint in return for confirmation from its director Alain Thetard that he was the author of a document that allegedly records a bribe offer to Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
Thetard confirmed his authorship but said the documents merely contained rough notes that had nothing to do with a bribe.
In August Thetard applied to the Pietermaritzburg High Court to force the NPA to withdraw charges immediately, but was unsuccessful.
The NPA said then it would only withdraw at the start of Shaik's trial.
Shaik has an indirect shareholding in Thint, previously known as Thomson CSF.
He is accused of colluding with Thint's parent company in France to pay Zuma R500 000 a year for protection against a probe into arms deal irregularities.
Shaik's Nkobi group of companies has a shared interest with Thint in a multi-million rand tender awarded in the arms deal corvette programme.
Thetard has refused to testify in the Shaik trial.
With acknowledgements to Wendy Jasson Da Costa, Ben Maclennan and Sapa.