Don’t Ask Me, Ask Zuma
Evasive Shaik points finger at deputy president during courtroom grilling
Schabir Shaik this week again turned up the heat on Deputy President Jacob Zuma, the man he describes in court as his “commander” and “chief”.
Faced with cross-examination by lead prosecutor Billy Downer, Shaik repeatedly refused to provide answers to questions about Zuma’s actions and thoughts. Rather than respond, the Nkobi Group boss told the Durban High Court that several questions put to him “should be put to Mr Zuma”.
Shaik was being questioned by Downer on his evidence-in-chief on the building of a R1.3-million complex at Nkandla in Zululand by Zuma.
Asked for details of the negotiations between Zuma and Eric Malengret, the builder responsible for the development, Shaik denied all knowledge of the project, apart from having been asked for financial advice and assistance by Zuma early on in the development.
Shaik said he had “washed my hands” of the project and “walked away” from any association with it after he told Zuma he was being overcharged by Malengret and stopped construction.
“When I received the bill... I then contacted Mr Zuma and informed him that he in fact was overcharged... and I sent a letter to Mr Malengret stopping that work. When Mr Zuma indicated... he will deal with Mr Malengret personally, there was no further need for me to participate,” said Shaik.
Shaik said that Zuma subsequently secured a bond via Durban businessman Vivian Reddy to finance the project.
Asked whether Zuma had intended using R900 000 Shaik had taken out of Zuma’s account and used for Nkobi to fund the construction, Shaik again effectively kicked the question towards Zuma.
“I don’t think it’s befitting for me to respond on behalf of Mr Zuma,” Shaik said.
Asked, in his capacity as Zuma’s financial adviser, if Zuma was expecting other funds to pay for Nkandla, Shaik responded: “Perhaps that should be put to Mr Zuma’s lawyers.”
Shaik also said a letter from former Nkobi employee Celia Bester claiming Shaik and “certain ministers” were enriching themselves via Nkobi was “probably referring to a minister and that would be Mr Zuma *1.
“There was no secret in our company that our accountants were dealing with matters of payment for Zuma, as evidence was led here, on my instructions... that is no secret. In terms of ministers she is referring to and could only be referring to Mr Jacob Zuma *1.”
He said Bester’s comments were “wild allegations”.
On Thursday and Friday, Shaik told the court that Zuma’s attempts to convince Malaysian company Renong to cut Nkobi in on the Point Waterfront development between 1995 and 1997, after they had already rejected Nkobi, were Zuma’s own initiative and not his (Shaik’s).
Zuma, Shaik said, had wanted Nkobi included in the black economic empowerment 49% share of the deal because Zuma felt Nkobi would improve the BEE component of the project.
Shaik said Zuma held the view that IFP members and people from “other racial minorities” were qualified to benefit from BEE, while Renong felt empowerment was meant only for Africans.
Shaik also placed additional pressure on KwaZulu-Natal ANC treasurer and Finance MEC Dr Zweli Mkhize in evidence around how he was to repay the R900 000 he had taken from Zuma’s account. Shaik said the money had been destined for Development Africa, an ANC front company of which Mkhize is the major trustee, for use by the ANC and the Zulu royal family.
After Zuma had told him to meet Mkhize to discuss repayments, Shaik had done so.
“These funds were provided to Dr Zweli Mkhize in the form of cheques. And I believe that Dr Zweli Mkhize is quite happy to testify to that effect *2,” Shaik said.
• Shaik’s lawyers and spokesmen for Zuma have repeatedly refused to say whether the defence has asked Zuma to take the witness stand.
With acknowledgements to Paddy Harper and the Sunday Times.
*1 And Mac Maharaj and Zwelie Mkhize and Nkosazana Zuma inter alia.
*2 With the incriminating evidence that will surely engulf him should he choose to do so, he would be as happy to jump onto the tracks in front of the fully-loaded Sishen to Saldana Iron Ore Express or Mpumalanga to Richard's Bay Coal Express, for want of a more local option.