Prosecutor and Shaik in Court Showdown
In a magnificent display of icy restraint, cutting sarcasm and pelting cross-examination, prosecutor advocate Billy Downer and Durban businessman Schabir Shaik squared up in the final offensive of Shaik's corruption and fraud trial.
Even advocate Kessie Naidu SC, monitoring the trial for French arms dealer Thomson, who proved himself a master of the art of cross-examination during the Hefer Commission of Inquiry last year, was riveted yesterday as Downer's questions rained down on Shaik, who returned the curve balls first with dispassion, then with irritation and later open scorn.
It was a tired-looking Shaik who called for time-out at the end of the day, clutching a bottle of vitamin pills.
The morning had started brutally, with a hostile confrontation between Downer and Shaik over his qualifications:
Downer: "Mr Shaik, you have admitted all your qualifications as stated on letterheads and brochures are false."
Downer: It says here you have an MBA.
Shaik: I don't have an MBA.
Downer: I have an Nkobi brochure here. Your CV is noted. It says "graduate of prestigious universities in Europe and the United States".
Shaik: I am not.
Downer: It says you are a qualified engineer.
Shaik: I am not.
Downer: It says you are a business creator.
Shaik: Thank you.
Downer: It says you are a published author.
Shaik: It is also incorrect.
Downer: How did this happen?
Shaik: I don't want to explain how one develops a sense of confidence. I used it (false qualifications) to promote confidence and impress clients.
Downer: Your CV also mentions your link (as economic adviser) to (Deputy President) Jacob Zuma.
Downer: To impress customers?
Shaik: No. Where one deals with foreign customers they need to understand the political stability in SA. It was a way to help them understand.
Downer then moved on to Shaik's relationship with the Deputy President:
Downer: You are still paying money to Zuma.
Downer: It is noted in your records.
Shaik: I would imagine so.
Downer: In accordance with your instructions.
Downer: The State's forensic auditor (Johan) van der Walt said they had difficulty extracting the true state of affairs from your records.
Shaik: He did. I was equally concerned about the bookkeeping ...
And how much that debt was:
Downer: Do you know the present outstanding balance owing to you by Zuma?
Downer: When last did you check?
Shaik: I've been busy with this trial.
Downer: You must authorise payments to Zuma.
Shaik: Certain payments, debit orders, do not require my authorisation.
Downer: Do you have any idea how much money Zuma owes you?
Shaik: I have not applied my mind.
Downer: Does it bother you?
Shaik: I am comfortable that he would pay me back.
Downer: Could it be R1-million or R2-million that he owes you?
Shaik: I am unable to say.
Downer: The amount he owes you might exceed R2-million.
Shaik: That is quite possible.
Downer: What have you done about that?
Shaik: I've done nothing. As soon as my trial is finished, I'll sit with him.
On how their financial relationship started:
Downer: You and your family helped Zuma from the early days?
Downer: Did any of you expect him to pay you back?
Shaik: We just being friends. We did not expect repayment.
Downer: So you considered the money as donations.
Downer: He could not repay you.
On Zuma's financial crises:
Downer: So when you had the serious discussion about his finances around 1996 and 1997, Zuma wanted to leave politics.
Downer: But you convinced him to stay and said you would assist him.
Downer: You had an ongoing understanding that you would pay for as long as he remained in politics.
Shaik: I said I would help until he was financially stable.
Downer: That was in 1996. We are now in 2005, and you still support him.
And on how Zuma was to pay back Shaik:
Downer: You said your mind was not focused on repayments.
Downer: And you believe that when Zuma retires, he would pay you.
Downer: But you said it did not matter if he does not pay.
Shaik: My religion bans me from pursuing loans made to friends.
Downer: You said you had no idea of what Zuma's pension is.
Shaik: I said it is about R3,5-million.
And on Shaik's claim that Zuma would be able to pay him back once he received his pension:
Downer: So we are looking at a substantial inroad into his pension.
Shaik: I disagree with the use of the word "substantial".
Downer: His pension would be reduced.
Shaik: Yes. But he has other paid-up assets in his portfolio.
Downer: He has other debts.
And on the extension of a revolving credit agreement between him and Zuma, Shaik said he extended the agreement orally last year as Zuma was sensitive about it because of investigations by the Scorpions. The State is disputing that the document is authentic.
Downer: So when did you extend the loan agreement?
Shaik: Last year. My legal advisers told me to apply my mind to it. Downer: But you only received a copy of the agreement subsequently.
Shaik: I knew about the agreement.
Finally, they discussed a donation of R900 000 Shaik inadvertently transferred from Zuma's account. The money, donated by Nelson Mandela, was intended for repairs to a Zulu royal residence:
Downer: You did not discuss the transfer of R900 000.
Shaik: No. Such was the nature of our relationship and our level of trust.
Downer: It seems a little odd.
Shaik: I took those funds. But when Zuma said it was not his funds, I had then told him it was for his loan.
Downer: Was it less or more than the outstanding loan?
Shaik: Less. It could be substantially higher. No, I am not sure. - Special Writer.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and The Star.