Zuma May Face Perjury Charge over 'Bribes' Meeting
Xolisa Vapi, Paddy Harper
Deputy President Jacob Zuma could find himself deeper in trouble if a High Court judge accepts a claim that he did, in fact, meet a French arms dealer in Durban in 2000 something he has denied under oath.
The dramatic statement by Schabir Shaik that Zuma did attend the March 2000 meeting with Alain Thetard was revealed earlier this week by Shaik’s advocate, Francois van Zyl.
If the court accepts this as true, Zuma may be open to a perjury charge the claim contradicts an assertion by Zuma in his sworn affidavit to the Pretoria High Court in August last year, made during his application to secure Thetard’s encrypted fax which is said to prove he solicited a bribe from Thetard.
In it Zuma said: “I have repeatedly stated that I did not attend any such meeting. I have always maintained that I am innocent of the charges [against Shaik] in the draft charge sheet. I have never solicited a bribe or acted corruptly. I never will,” Zuma said in his affidavit.
The state argues that it was at this meeting that the alleged R500 000-a-year bribe for Zuma’s protection of Thomson-CSF (now Thint) from arms deal investigators and support for future projects was discussed.
Van Zyl told the Durban High Court on Wednesday that his client would confirm that the meeting with Thetard did take place. However, Shaik who was Zuma’s financial adviser would deny that a bribe was discussed.
If true, the assertion that Zuma was at the meeting will worsen the deputy president’s woes. Besides the possibility of perjury charges, he would risk being accused of misleading and possibly lying to Parliament.
In reply to a question posed by the Democratic Alliance in Parliament in February last year, about whether he had any meetings “in March 2000 and/or on any other specified dates with” Thetard, Zuma said: “I did not meet Alain Thetard on 11 March 2000 in Durban or elsewhere.”
Van Zyl alluded to the meeting while cross-examining Shaik’s former personal assistant Bianca Singh.
“There was a meeting between Mr Zuma, Mr Thetard and Mr Shaik, but not on the 11th of March, it was on the 10th of March, the Friday, late afternoon or early evening,” Van Zyl said before Judge Hillary Squires.
Democratic Alliance justice spokesman Sheila Camerer said: “If the deputy president has perjured himself, we would expect him to be charged with perjury.”
Neil Tuchton, the counsel conducting a watching brief for Zuma at the Shaik trial, refused to comment, as did Zanele Mngadi, spokesman for Zuma.
National Prosecutions Authority spokesman Sipho Ngwema refused to discuss the possibility of a perjury charge being brought against Zuma.
“For now, our focus is on the Durban case. I would not want to speculate on this,” Ngwema said.
Legal scholar Professor Shadrack Ghutto said the possible perjury charge was more serious than allegations that Zuma lied to Parliament and its ethics committee.
Ghutto said a perjury sentence would depend on how the offence undermined the administration of justice. Since this was a “fairly serious case”, the form of punishment would be “on the higher side”.
Zuma’s denial in Parliament that he or any member of his family had any business interests or shareholding in Shaik’s Nkobi Group of companies was also placed in doubt in court this week.
On Thursday, KPMG forensic auditor Johan van der Walt told the court notes from 1995 about Nkobi’s shareholding structure recorded “JZ” as having a 2.5% stake in the company through a nominee.
“Zuma was considered as a shareholder, whereby his shareholding would have been held in a nominee capacity,” Van der Walt said. The ANC, he said, held a 20% shareholding in Shaik’s company.
KPMG was brought into the corruption prosecution of Shaik last November to help the Scorpions prepare its investigation.
The DA is to submit new questions to Zuma to “allow him the opportunity to further clarify his position” on the meeting and his 2003 statement that the payments he received from Shaik and his companies were “loans”, finance spokesman Raenette Taljaard said yesterday.
Zuma is bound by the code of ethics for MPs and by the more stringent code for members of the executive, which forbids them from willfully misleading the legislature or the President and requires them to perform their duties “diligently and honestly... in a manner that is consistent with the integrity of their office or the government”.
As an MP, he is obliged to declare all gifts worth R350 or more, including multiple gifts from one source that totalled more than R350 in one year. An official said benefits, such as low-interest or interest-free loans, had to be declared if the interest waived totalled more than R350 a year.
Additional reporting by Brendan Boyle
With acknowledgements to Xolisa Vapi, Paddy Harper and the Sunday Times.