Judge Cuts Short Questions on Zuma
Nicola Jenvey, Sapa
Judge Hillary Squires cut short attempts by the state yesterday to get businessman Schabir Shaik’s account of a March 2000 meeting amid heightened speculation about whether Deputy President Jacob Zuma will be called to the witness stand.
Squires brought an end to a series of questions the state wanted to pose to fraud and corruption accused Shaik in the Durban High Court about how Zuma would interpret certain evidence.
Lead prosecutor Billy Downer wanted to establish from Shaik what Zuma’s evidence would include, should the defence call the deputy president to testify. He wanted to verify that Shaik’s evidence tallied with Zuma’s, particularly in relation to the contents of a fax supposedly detailing a bribe arranged for Zuma.
However, Squires halted Downer’s questioning, saying it was speculative. He dismissed the prosecutor’s argument that by questioning Shaik at this stage in the trial he avoided having to recall the accused after a potential witness had given his version of events.
“If the issues he (Zuma) raises contradict … Shaik’s version then the state would be forced to further cross-examine Shaik,” Downer said.
The state, which did not call Zuma to testify earlier in the trial, does not know who the defence will call.
Shaik’s defence has not disclosed its list of witnesses.
Squires replied it was already common cause that only Zuma could verify Shaik’s story, and so he saw “no point in proceeding with something that may be entirely groundless”.
Downer was cross-examining Shaik on the encrypted fax that details a R500 000 bribe Shaik allegedly secured for Zuma from French arms firm Thomson-CSF.
Last week Squires admitted the fax into evidence as an executive summary *1 of a meeting on March 10 2000 of Shaik, Zuma and Thomson-CSF’s African director, Alain Thetard.
Shaik has said the meeting confirmed Thomson-CSF’s donation to the Jacob Zuma Education Trust, disputing the state’s call that it concerned the alleged bribe.
He has also expressed “disappointment and surprise” about Thetard’s fax, saying the first time he learnt about the bribery implications was when it became public knowledge via media reports.
Earlier in the day Shaik testified that Thomson-CSF was asked to contribute money to the trust without detailed knowledge of the body.
The businessman said he never referred to the trust fund or named Zuma in his correspondence *2 with the French company. Shaik said he had repeatedly sent letters to the French requesting the donation, but never mentioned a figure *3. He said after a year of trying to secure “a donation” to the fund from Thomson-CSF he eventually gave up.
Downer grilled Shaik on how Zuma could allegedly promise bursaries and assistance to an unspecified number of students when the French company had neither committed the money nor indicated how large their donation would be to the education trust.
The state alleges the donation was actually a bribe for protection during investigations into the multi-billion-rand arms deal irregularities.
Downer asked Shaik why it was so important for his company, Nkobi Holdings, to have a direct shareholding in African Defence Systems, the Thomson-CSF subsidiary that won part of the corvette contract.
Shaik said the advantage would have been income.
With acknowledgements to Nicola Jenvey and Business Day.
*1 Actually, an executive statement - meaning that the recordal was in respect of the order to execute a pre-agreed plan (concerning a conspiracy).
*2 The only thing of any importance was the wonga. Maybe the Royal Durban had issued a pesky fees invoice or Robin had come around to collect.
*3 The figure was always R500 000 (actually 500 000 French Francs which at that time had almost equally value to the Rand). This was because it was Thomson-CSF corporate policy that this was the annual upper limit for paying for market intelligence and the like (as well as bribing foreign politicians) without getting special board approval.