Publication: Sapa Issued: Durban Date: 2004-10-20 Reporter: Ben Maclennan Reporter: Wendy Jasson da Costa

Thetard 'Didn't Understand Bribe Fuss'






Date 2004-10-20


Ben Maclennan, Wendy Jasson da Costa


French arms company executive Alain Thetard told his secretary he did not understand the fuss over South Africa's arms deal because bribery was common in his home country.*

This was the testimony on Wednesday of Marion Marais, the fourth witness to be called in the Schabir Shaik fraud and corruption trial in the Durban High Court.

Like the last two state witnesses, who included another of Thetard's secretaries, Marais' name was kept off the prosecution's list of witnesses to protect her identity until the last minute.

She also told the court Thetard was secretive, that he referred to many people by coded names, and that he had three shredding machines in his Pretoria office.

She said on the day in 1999 when former Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille raised her suspicions of arms deal corruption in Parliament, a man from another French company in Pretoria who "was clearly in a very agitated state" visited Thetard.

The two of them had a meeting in his office -- behind closed doors, which was very unusual.

"I was aware something was amiss," she said. Thetard then instructed her to find out what De Lille had said.

She called "the PAC office" and was told to look in a newspaper but found nothing.

When she told Thetard she did not have information on De Lille's statement he was "clearly agitated and irritated".

Marais who worked for Thetard from December 1998 to December 1999 and is now a secretary at a Johannesburg school, said Thetard spoke of Deputy President Jacob Zuma "quite frequently".

"He often used to say that through Mr Schabir Shaik he hoped to get an appointment with Mr Zuma and (an) introduction. He really was excited at the prospect. He really did hope he would meet him."

She said once, before a trip to Durban, he excitedly rubbed his hands together and said: " I think this time I will be able to meet Mr Zuma."

At one point Thetard wanted "very badly" for her to get in touch with Barbara Masekela, who was South Africa's ambassador to France.

Shown a fax that appeared to show that Thetard indeed met Masekela she said she had no knowledge of a meeting.

Marais also said Thetard regularly met Yusuf Surtee, who he referred to as "le tailleur" (the tailor).

She believed Surtee was called by this name because apparently he made Nelson Mandela's clothes and because "a number of people were referred to in encoded names" by the Frenchman.

Marais said Thetard's main mode of correspondence was by fax and though some of these faxes were filed in a cupboard, others he locked in a safe in his office.

She had been instructed that drafts of documents not meant for filing had to be shredded.

Thetard told her never to throw documents in a rubbish bin and would get very angry if she did this.

"I got the impression that he was very secretive and a lot of the things were confidential," she said.

She said she found Thetard "incredibly difficult" to work for.

"He was arrogant and he was volatile," she said. This was the main reason for her resignation.

On the day she quit she had asked a company driver to stay on in the office.

Asked by prosecutor Anton Steynberg why she did this, she said: "Mainly because Mr Thetard had a very strong temper and I felt nervous. He had thrown keys before -- at me."

Marais said she was required to transfer money from Thomson to Shaik's Nkobi group.

He was often irritable and grudging about the payments, she said.

"He often used to speak very sarcastically and say I've already given so many payments and Mr Shaik is asking for more."

Earlier Susan Delique, also a former Thomson secretary, testified about the origins of a hand-written note by Thetard, allegedly recording a bribe to Zuma.

A comprehensive audit report on Shaik's company books, commissioned by the Scorpions, is to be presented in court when the trial resumes on Thursday.

The document, sections of which have already been leaked to the media, will be introduced when KPMG accountant Johan van der Walt takes the stand.

With acknowledgement to Ben Maclennan, Wendy Jasson da Costa and Sapa.

* But we knew this from the beginning. This is the French way. This is also the Thomson way. In the main, they have such poor products that this is the only way to get business. We don't like this way. That's why we won't stop until these bribers and corrupters of the natives return from whence they came.