'Bloodhound' in the Box at Shaik Trial
Mail and Guardian
Ben Maclennan, Wendy Jasson da Costa, Sapa
A forensic auditor who describes himself as a "bloodhound" went into the witness box in the Durban High Court on Thursday for what is expected to be several days of testimony on Shabir Shaik's financial affairs.
KPMG director Johan van der Walt told the court the Scorpions asked his firm in September 2003 to draw up a report on payments made by Shaik to Deputy President Jacob Zuma and his dependants.
As he took the stand the prosecutor handed in as exhibits his 259 page report with a 20 page addendum, and 22 lever-arch files crammed with annexures and supporting documents.
These include original financial documentation related to Shaik's Nkobi group, its partner, the French Thomson arms group, their involvement in the multi-billion rand arms deal, payments made to and on behalf of Zuma and Zuma's own financial position.
"Would it be right to call you a financial detective?" Judge Hillary Squires asked.
"My Lord, earlier in court auditors were called watchdogs. I would call myself a bloodhound," Van der Walt said.
"Auditors are people sent in to bayonet the wounded," Squires said.
Van der Walt said his report did not comment on the official adjudication of arms deal contracts - which the prosecution claims Zuma helped Nkobi and Thomson secure a slice of - and that he did not have access to all the official documents about the awarding of tenders.
He said, however, that the auditor general had conducted a detailed investigation into the arms deal.
It was his experience that all businesses had formal processes of adjudicating tenders to make sure they were done fairly, especially when irregularities were possible.
However, it was also his experience that behind the scenes there was a process "secondary to the main process" to assist bidders to secure contracts.
The only way one could uncover this was by detailed forensic investigation of accounting evidence.
Van der Walt said there was a misunderstanding that accounting involved only debits and credits. However, that was only the result of a process.
There was supporting documentation and discussions that built up to the debit and credit, and to understand them, one needed access to a company's books and minutes of meetings, discussions and notes.
He had extracted all this information and collated it in his report.
Van der Walt said his team had unlimited access to a National Prosecuting Authority's strongroom full of documents and statements.
It was possible that documents existed which had not been made available, or that they could not be found. These included bank statements over "an extended period".
However van der Walt likened his job to putting together a puzzle from thousands of pieces jumbled together in a box.
"Maybe some pieces are not there, but it doesn't affect the picture at the end of the day."
Asked by prosecutor Billy Downer whether he would have admitted it if he had come up with a different picture to the one found by the NPA, he said: "Certainly yes, my Lord. It would have been evident in my report."
"I was clearly instructed to conduct this investigation independently and to come to my findings on an independent basis."
On accepting the appointment he explained to Downer that he would prefer not to meet anyone who might be involved in the prosecution team until he had completed a substantial part of his work.
It was only later that year, in 2003, that he met Downer again. He said his team did not undertake the audit on generally accepted accounting principles. "This investigation goes much wider than conducting an audit."
Downer told Squires that Van der Walt would no doubt be in the witness box for some time, and the entire report had been handed up.
He urged the court, in the interests of justice, that the document not be made available to journalists and members of the public before Van der Walt completed his testimony.
He said articles should not be published about the parts of the report Van der Walt had not yet reached in his evidence.
Squires said the report was now a public document, and that it could be inspected but not taken away by anyone.
He said he understood this was the same document that Downer earlier this week protested about after extracts were published in a Sunday newspaper.
Squires said he had already asked that the media not anticipate evidence that had not yet been presented in court.
With acknowledgements to Ben Maclennan ,Wendy Jasson da Costa, Sapa and the Mail & Guardian.