Coded Fax Puts Zuma in Dock
Durban – A notorious encrypted fax, recording an alleged arms deal bribe to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, emerged into the light of an overcast Durban day at the Shaik corruption trial on Tuesday.
The existence of a handwritten note by Alain Thetard, head of South African operations for French arms company Thomson CSF, which appears to record a proposed sum of R500 000-a-year payment to Zuma, has been public knowledge for some time.
Mr Thetard maintains he threw the note into a rubbish bin.
But the State produced the Thomson secretary, who says Mr Thetard gave her the scrawled note which she typed up in fax form, and on his instructions sent in encrypted form to the Thomson head office in Paris.
The prosecution also produced a printout of what she says is her original typed and faxed version of the note. Shaik's legal team has contested the admissibility of the documents, and will argue the issue at the end of the State's case.
Mr Thetard, now in France and refusing to testify in the trial, said in an affidavit earlier this year the note was a rough draft of a document "in which I intended to record my thoughts on separate issues in a manner which was not only disjointed but also lacked circumspection.
"It is for this reason that I did not fax this document or direct that it be faxed. I crumpled it and threw it into the wastepaper basket from where it was possibly retrieved," he said.
The note, presented in court, does indeed have crossings-out and alterations to the spidery black script, as well as a crease across the middle. But it is clearly headed: FAX CRYPTE.
The secretary, Susan Delique, told the court Mr Thetard gave her the note when he returned from what she believed was a meeting with Shaik and Zuma in Durban in March 2000.
The typed version of the note is addressed to Thomson's sales director for Africa, Yann de Jomaron, and headed "Subject: JZ/S Shaik".
It reads: "Dear Yann: following our interview held on 30/9/1999 with S Shaik in Durban and my conversation held on 10/11/1999 with Mr JP Perrier in Paris I have been able (at last) to meet JZ in Durban on the 11th of this month, during a private interview in the presence of SS I had asked for SS to obtain from JZ a clear confirmation or, at least, an encoded declaration (in a code defined by me), in order to validate the request by SS at the End of September 1999. This was done by JZ, (in an encoded form). May I remind you of the two main objectives of the ‘effort' requested of Thompson-CSF are:
Thompson-CSF's protection during the current investigations (SITRON)
JZ's permanent support for the future projects
Amount: 500k ZAR per annum (until the first payment of the Dividends by ADS)." The State hopes to prove that Zuma was to receive the money in return for protecting Thompson, and Shaik's company Nkobi Holdings, against probes into irregularities in their acquisition of a share in the multibillion-rand arms deal.
It also hopes to prove Zuma helped the two firms secure their slice of the arms deal in the form of a tender for the electronic combat suite in the navy's four new corvettes.
Thompson won the tender, and then shared it with Nkobi via a joint shareholding in African Defence Systems, the ADS in the encrypted fax.
Ms Delique, who worked for Thomson in its Pretoria office, told the court she left abruptly after a "rather unpleasant" experience with Mr Thetard, in which she feared for her safety.
She had grabbed what was on her desk, and among this material was Mr Thetard's handwritten note, which she handed to the Scorpions after they approached her in 2001.
Last month, on re-reading a statement she made to the Scorpions, she had looked through computer disks kept from her Thomson days, and found her typed version of the note.
Asked by defence advocate Francois Van Zyl whether it was "coincidence" that she had walked out with the document and disk, she replied: "Yes."
She said after she left she contacted Thomson's auditors and told them about the lack of accounting controls in the company, and that she believed Mr Thetard was not acting in the company's best interests.
With acknowledgements to Sapa and The Citizen.