Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-10-26 Reporter: Wendy Jasson da Costa Reporter: Sapa

'All Thomson Needs is a Black Partner'



Mail and Guardian

Date 2004-10-26


Wendy Jasson da Costa, Sapa

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Fraud and corruption accused Schabir Shaik threatened to withdraw his Nkobi group from Thomson-CSF operations in 1996, the Durban High Court heard on Monday.

The court also heard about a tailor who appeared to act as a go-between for parties interested in acquiring a stake in the government's multibillion-rand arms deal and how the French Secret Service told authorities that Thomson was dealing with a tailor.

Forensic expert Johan van der Walt told the court that Shaik was unhappy with Thomson's marketing and felt that the "French visitors" had no idea which local people and enterprises to approach.

Last week state witness Marion Marais said the tailor was the codename for President Nelson Mandela's tailor, Yusuf Surtee.

Van der Walt said Thomson boss Pierre Moynot mentioned the possibility that the company could be privatised.

He said Shaik pointed out that Nkobi had a strategic interest in the defence industry and that it was essential to "beef up" the local Thomson operation or Nkobi would reconsider its further involvement.

In December 1996 Shaik received a fax from Moynot on the privatisation of Thomson-CSF.

Moynot indicated he had also sent copies to then-Defence Minister Joe Modise, Transport Minister Mac Maharaj, Jacob Zuma, who was KwaZulu-Natal's minister of economic affairs at the time, and Deputy Defence Minister Ronnie Kasrils.

In August 1997 the possibility of investing in African Defence Systems (ADS), a division of Altech, was discussed at a meeting of Thomson shareholders and directors.

Van der Walt, from the KPMG accounting and auditing firm, said Shaik knew Nkobi could not pay for its portion of the investment in ADS and expected Thomson-CSF (France) to assist him.

He said it was evident that the Nkobi group was technically insolvent at this stage.

In an encrypted fax in November 1997 Moynot says he met with a person known as the tailor who was responsible for the short listing of the corvette programme.

The alleged meeting took place a month after the closing of the date of the supply tender for the corvette programme.

The letter says the tailor saw no reason why he (the tailor) should not try to make some money since the only important thing for him was to see that Thomson be awarded the combat system through ADS and the "sensors" directly.

He also repeated that he had an assurance from the then deputy president Thabo Mbeki that Thomson would be awarded the combat systems and the sensors.

Van der Walt said Mbeki would also have been the chairperson of the Ministers' Committee that eventually took the final decision on arms deal bidders and made the final recommendation to Parliament.

He said it was also mentioned that a visit by Thomson's Jean-Paul Perrier to the deputy president had to be arranged as soon as possible and could also be used as an opportunity to meet with Zuma.

The court heard that presentation slides from the Thomson group noted that ADS "lacked experience in conducting major programmes and the government encouraged it to establish links with a major international company".

Thomson-CSF's acquisition of ADS would help it achieve these requirements and ensure a strong position in all future naval programmes.

Van der Walt said Moynot informed Thomson's Southern African boss Alain Thetard that the tailor had told him "that Mandela would be at the appointment on 26 April 1998, but that he did not know if Mbeki would be there".

At this stage payments to Zuma totalled R343 724. Van der Walt said Thomson-CSF, which had an interest in South Africa's multi-billion rand arms deal through its shareholding in ADS, believed that political connectivity was a precursor to favourable consideration in the arms deal, a view shared by Shaik.

He said the involvement of black economic empowerment companies was an issue of concern and that FBS was a selected black empowerment partner and the Nkobi group, due to its involvement in Thomson-CSF, was the other party.

Shaik was unhappy with the structure and inclusion of FBS and the dispute was resolved at a "high political level".

Van der Walt said the manner in which Thomson-CSF acquired the shareholding in ADS initially resulted in Nkobi being excluded from any direct or indirect interest in ADS. He said in 1998 Shaik was angered by the turn of events and at that stage FBS acquired a direct interest of 20% in ADS.

In his report, Van der Walt says a number of meetings allegedly took place between Chippy Shaik and Thomson-CSF in the run up to the short listing of potential bidders and when recommendations to various committees were made.

In November 1989 the Cabinet announced that the German Frigate Consortium (GFC) was the preferred bidder for the corvettes.

On the same day Zuma allegedly attended a Thomson-CSF meeting where the final share distribution in Thomson-CSF and ADS was confirmed. Thomson-CSF had a stake in GFC.

In December 1999 government and a consortium consisting of GFC and the Thomson consortium signed the contract for the supply of corvettes to the South African navy. In March 2000 Shaik was appointed director of ADS.

Van der Walt says Shaik wrote a letter to Thetard in March 2000 in which he complains about the way ADS and Thomson-CSF were managed.

"You cannot continue believing that this situation will go unnoticed by the other shareholder. It appears that all we are good for in Thomson-CSF Limited is to hand out money for donations.

"All Thomson needs is for a black empowerment partner to land the deal through its connectivity, thereafter we are required to step aside and be at the mercy of Thomson's poor management of the deal."

With acknowledgements to Wendy Jasson da Costa, Sapa and the Mail & Guardian.