Shaik Trial Hears Mandela's Tailor May Have Helped Broker Deal
The Natal Witness
Was Nelson Mandela's tailor the go-between during negotiations leading up to the approved list of bidders in the country's multi-million rand arms deal?
Forensic evidence heard on Monday at the Schabir Shaik corruption and fraud trial in Durban, suggests that Yusuf Surtee, the man who makes Mandela's trademark shirts, attempted to use his "closeness" to political leaders to help French arms manufacturer Thomson-CSF and Shaik secure part of the tender to supply the country with corvettes.
KPMG's Johan van der Walt told the Durban High Court that reference to the "tailor" or "tailleur" is made several times in documents seized at Shaik's Nkobi Holdings and Thomson-CSF.
Furthermore, Surtee's name in mentioned in a 1997 encrypted fax in which Thomson boss Pierre Moynot tells business associates that "Surtee did in fact appear closer to Mandela than his previous fax suggested".
Van der Walt told the court that from analysing the documents he was under the impression that the "tailleur" was the person responsible for the "compilation of the short list and eventual recommendation" to the committees awarding the arms deal to a suitable bidder.
Nkobi Holdings and Thomson-CSF partnered under the umbrella of African Defence Systems (ADS) to bid for part of the corvette tender. On November 18, 1998 cabinet chose German Frigate Consortium (GFC) as its preferred bidder. ADS was part of this consortium.
Shaik is alleged to have paid a total of R1,2 million to Deputy President Jacob Zuma for his influence in business deals, including the arms deal.
The state alleges Thomson promised Zuma R500 000 a year for his influence and protection against the probe into corruption in the arms deal.
The court on Monday heard that Shaik relied heavily on his political connections to obtain a share in Thomson-CSF.
While the "tailor" was assuring the French that he was close to Mandela and that he was confident that then deputy president Thabo Mbeki would award Thomson the combat system, Shaik allegedly threatened to pull back his political influence if Nkobi was excluded from Thomson-CSF.
A dispute erupted when FBS, another black economic empowerment company, joined ADS.
"The manner in which Thomson-CSF acquired the shareholding in ADS initially resulted in the position in which the Nkobi group was excluded from any direct or indirect interests in ADS.
"These events culminated in a situation whereby, during 1998, Shaik was ostensibly upset. At that point in time, FBS acquired a direct interest of 20% in ADS," Van der Walt said.
He said documents indicate that Mandela and Mbeki assisted and advised on the eventual structuring of the shareholding of ADS.
"Indications are that at least Mandela and Mbeki were involved in negotiations and discussions during the period leading up to the day when cabinet approved the list for the supply in the arms deal.
"However, it appears that their involvement was limited to attempts to resolve disputes regarding Thomson-CSF's empowerment partner."
Meanwhile, after Shaik's brother Chippy, then the head of the country's arms acquisition, held a briefing at which the preferred bidders were apparently recommended for the final decision, the cabinet announced its preferred bidder.
According to documents, on the same day "various parties within the Thomson group" met. Zuma was allegedly at the meeting.
In typed minutes of this meeting, "JZ" the initials commonly used to name him, was changed to "MINISTER JZ".
According to the 259-page KPMG report that the state is relying on to prove its case, Zuma, then the Economic Affairs and Tourism MEC in KwaZulu-Natal, was included in discussions regarding the arms deal.
Furthermore, Zuma was the only provincial minister to receive a fax sent by Moynot to Shaik regarding a letter on the privatisation of Thomson-CSF. The letter was also sent to former defence minister Joe Modise, former transport minister Mac Maharaj, and former deputy defence minister Ronnie Kasrils.
According to Van der Walt's calculations, by November 1998 the Nkobi group or Shaik had made payments for or on behalf of Zuma to the amount of R432 456.
Shaik maintains that these were loans to a "friend in need".
With acknowledgements to Nivashni Nair and The Natal Witness.