Publication: Business Day Date: 2004-10-19 Reporter: Tim Cohen Reporter: Nicola Jenvey

Shaik 'Asked Zuma for Slice of Arms Deal'



Business Day

Date 2004-10-19


Tim Cohen, Nicola Jenvey

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Durban - Businessman Schabir Shaik's former personal assistant threw new light on the blurring of boundaries between politics, business and even personal relations, as the prosecution's arrows found their mark in the second week of the trial yesterday.

The former assistant, Bianca Singh, told the Durban High Court she heard Shaik ask Deputy President Jacob Zuma for help in getting a slice of the arms deal.

Singh also told the court that she personally handed over R700 to Zuma, mostly drawn from the petty cash box of Shaik's company, Nkobi Holdings.

The former assistant said she heard Shaik say, in relation to the arms deal, that if a "certain African National Congress member opened his mouth" they would be in "real trouble".

Singh also landed the prosecution a potential gold mine when she unearthed Shaik's appointment diary for 2000 only last week. The four-year-old records reflect a host of meetings involving Shaik, Zuma and French arms company Thint (formerly Thales) director Alain Thethard, who was at a meeting in Mauritius with Shaik and Zuma.

Further embroiling Zuma in the trial, Singh also recounted several incidents in which Shaik or his Nkobi Holdings company network transferred funds into the deputy president's private account. The payments allegedly covered school and university fees for Zuma's children.

Singh testified that she hastily left the employ of the company after the meeting in Port Louis, Mauritius, at which Shaik raised the issue of "damage control" with representatives of Thales.

Singh was asked to leave the meeting when the conversation started and eventually left the country the next day after an unexplained "personal incident" involving her and Shaik.

But if Singh's testimony made a significant impact on the state's case, the defence team could claim at least one return blow, from Shaik's advocate

Francois van Zyl forced the otherwise unswerving witness to acknowledge a mistake on the timing of an incident concerning phone calls from Shaik's brother, Chippy, who was head of arms procurement, and a phone call he then made to Zuma.

She said Shaik once said he had to carry a jar of Vaseline around all the time because he was getting "fucked" all the time by various politicians. But he said that was okay because he got what he wanted and they got what they wanted.

One apparently tough incident for Shaik to explain involves a letter Singh said she wrote and sent on behalf of her boss, in respect to his dealings with a Scottish professor, John Lennon.

According to the charge sheet, Shaik and his UK associate, Deva Ponnoosami, attempted to position Nkobi as a joint venture partner to open a tourism school in KwaZulu-Natal.

Lennon had obtained Zuma's endorsement for the project. It was alleged Zuma suggested Lennon involve Nkobi in it.

When it transpired that Lennon intended to proceed with the project without Nkobi according to Singh Shaik wrote Lennon a threatening letter, saying that if Lennon did not give the co-operation as agreed, he would get Zuma to withdraw his support and stop the progress of the project.

Lennon is due to appear in court as a state witness.

Singh earlier dismissed the notion that Nkobi was a black economic empowerment company, despite Shaik advertising its merits while soliciting new business. Singh said Shaik traded on his connections with Zuma and other government ministers, while Nkobi had black directors in name only.

She said although Shaik highlighted Nkobi's black empowerment credentials in public, at times in the office he would say, "oh, he's just tired of these black people".

With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen, Nicola Jenvey and the Business Day.