Dramatic Cliffhanger in Store for Shaik Trial
Much like hanging on a cliff, there comes a time in any court case when it would be dangerous for either party to move a centimetre.
For Durban businessman Schabir Shaik, who on Monday was to take the witness stand for a sixth day of cross-examination, now is such a time.
Lead prosecutor Billy Downer SC is expected to question him on the allegation that he solicited a bribe for Deputy President Jacob Zuma from French arms company Thomson.
Shaik has pleaded not guilty to two charges of corruption, both relating to his financial relationship with Zuma, and one of fraud.
He has said that the state's allegation was based on a misunderstanding.
The state, however, says Shaik's version of events is laughable.
The state claims that Thomson always sought political support in their business deals as they followed a "backdoor approach" when tendering for government contracts.
It also is alleged that Thomson was under pressure when authorities began to probe the arms deal.
The state argues that this led to the bribe agreement formalised in an encrypted fax by Alain Thetard, a former director of Thomson. The fax sets out a bribe agreement between Thomson and Zuma.
The state claims that the "opaquely worded" letters written by Shaik after the fax shows his dilemma when the French were reluctant to pay. It also alleges that Shaik concluded a service-provider agreement with Thomson to facilitate the payment of the bribe.
According to the state, Shaik and Zuma were expecting funds to come from somewhere. Shaik had to pay back R900 000 meant for Development Africa, which he inadvertently used. Zuma had to pay for his traditional homestead at Nkandla.
Shaik has always maintained that the state was misinterpreting circumstances leading up to and following the fax.
His defence has attacked the state's version of certain events, saying:
• He had never heard of the fax before its content was published in a newspaper article years after the meeting where, according to the state, Zuma gave an encoded declaration.
• The state was wrong in interpreting letters he had written before the fax and meetings he had attended as referring to the bribe. He said it was about a donation for the Jacob Zuma Education Trust.
• The state was wrong in alleging that a service-provider agreement concluded between his Nkobi group of companies and Thomson was a way to ease payment of the bribe. Shaik says it was a genuine agreement aimed at generating more business opportunities for Thomson in South Africa.
• The state was wrong in alleging that he and Zuma conspired to pay for Nkandla with the bribe money. Shaik said after offering initial advice to the deputy president, he had "washed his hands" of the project. He did not know where Zuma was going to get the money.
Both have acknowledged that this is the most important charge. Both need to remain firm on their versions of events.
But as cross-examinations go, one will have to give in.
The trial continues.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and The Star.