'At Least, I've Finally Seen It'
Schabir Shaik on the now famous 'encrypted fax'
Emerging from court, Schabir Shaik, the Durban businessman and former financial adviser to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, said smilingly: "Well, at least I've finally seen it."
And so in effect had the whole of South Africa at last been able to see it as well.
Shaik, on trial in the Durban High Court for corruption and fraud, was referring to the now famous "encrypted fax", allegedly sent from the Pretoria office of arms dealer Thomson-CSF by Alain Thetard, a company director, to colleagues in Paris.
In the fax, dated March 17, 2000 and addressed to Yann de Jomaron of Thomson-CSF, Thetard writes that he has finally been able to meet "JZ" privately "in the presence of SS". Thetard writes that he had asked for an "encoded" confirmation from JZ that he, JZ, would protect Thomson-CSF in the then investigations into the arms deal by parliament (known as Sitron) and would also "permanently support" Thomson-CSF in "future projects".
Thomson-CSF, along with Shaik's Nkobi Holdings, was part of the group that in turn was part of the German Frigate Consortium (GFC), which had been announced by the government on November 18, 1998, as the preferred bidder for the contract to construct Corvettes for South Africa.
In the fax, having said what was required from Zuma, Thetard writes one final line: "Amount: 500 k ZAR per annum (until the first payment of the dividends by ADS)". ADS was African Defence Systems, also part of the Thomson/Nkobi group and the actual manufacturer of the Corvette computerised command and control "combat suites".
The state contends - it is charge number three against Shaik - that this fax represents a clear request from Shaik for a bribe of R500 000 a year for two years for Zuma.
But, following cross-examination today of Sue Delique, the former Thomson-CSF secretary who gave the fax to the Scorpions, by Francois Van Zyl SC, for Shaik, argument will be heard on whether the document is in fact genuine and whether therefore Judge Hilary Squires should even "admit" it as part of the evidence.
Delique said she had been Thetard's secretary for the first three months of 2000, but had wanted to leave because she had been required to work over- time for which she was not being reimbursed.
On the day that she handed in her resignation, there had apparently been an altercation of some kind between herself and Thetard and she, "fearing for her safety", had grabbed her handbag and a number of papers on her desk, and fled.
Later she had found that one of the papers that she had grabbed was a copy of the fax.
The copy of the fax was handed to the Scorpions early in 2001. Then, said Delique, who is in a witness protection programme and is followed everywhere by bodyguards, in September this year, she examined an old computer disk in her possession.
She had apparently also taken this with her in 2000, when she left the Thomson-CSF offices. On it she found that she had "saved" a copy of the fax.
Yesterday theories ricocheted around the steps of the Durban High Court as though someone standing in a very narrow alley, with the muzzle of his Uzi pointed at one of the walls, had just squeezed and kept squeezing the trigger.
What everyone was talking about was the evidence given by Susan Elizabeth Delique - French-speaker and former secretary of Alain Thetard.
Delique had just produced the state's smoking and long-awaited gun for charge three: soliciting a bribe from Thomson-CSF for Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
The smoking gun is the encrypted fax allegedly sent by Thetard to one Yann de Jomaron, a big cannon at Thomson HQ in Paris.
Perhaps not as beautifully written as one of Virgil's poems, the fax, dated March 17, 2000, is nonetheless unequivocal. "I have been able (at last) to met JZ. I had asked SS to obtain from JZ a clear confirmation - to validate the request by SS at the end of September (last year)," Thetard wrote.
To win protection for Thomson-CSF during the then arms deal investigations, Thetard continued, and JZ's "permanent support" in the future, would cost "500 k ZAR per annum (until the first payment of the dividends by ADS)".
But if the debate among people who had been in court, and were now standing on the court steps, outweighed the excitement, this was because Delique had told a very strange story.
"Her story was so weird," said one of the attorneys, "that I believe it was true."
In early 2001, the Scorpions came to call on Delique and she gave them the copy of the fax.
Then, in September this year, some three-and-half years after leaving Thomson, she was re-contacted by the Scorpions in connection with the present trial. She decided to look at a disk that she had also taken with her and "lo and behold", as Francois Van Zyl SC, appearing for Shaik, put it, there was the famous fax on the disk.
And so Delique yesterday became the second unhappy secretary to stun the court in the Shaik trial as well as the second secretary to find an unexpected treasure at the, so to speak, bottom of her cupboard.
For Bianca Singh, Shaik's former personal assistant, also told the court that just recently she had found a copy of Shaik's diary.
With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin and The Star.