Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2004-10-10 Reporter: Wilmer Muller Reporter: Sapa

D-Day for Schabir Shaik




Date 2004-10-10


Wilmer Muller, Sapa

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Durban - The corruption and fraud trial of deputy president Jacob Zuma's financial adviser and confidant Schabir Shaik gets under way in the Durban High Court on Monday.

More than a hundred witnesses, from eight countries, have been listed by the state, and the trial, though set down for two months, is likely to drag on far longer.

The trial has aroused intense public interest, largely because the outcome is likely to decide Zuma's political future and his chances of succeeding Thabo Mbeki in the presidency.

It has even given rise to an unprecedented national opinion poll of whether Zuma is guilty of the crimes he has not been formally charged with.

The results, announced by Markinor on Sunday, show 34% of South Africans and 44% of ANC supporters believe Zuma when he insists he is innocent.

Just over a third of South Africans think the charges against Shaik are an attempt by Zuma's political enemies to discredit him.

Scorpions spokesperson Sipho Ngwema confirmed on Sunday that politician and former business associate of Shaik, Themba Sono, will be the first witness called by the state, and would probably take the stand on Wednesday.

He said proceedings would start on Monday with the state formally withdrawing charges against arms company Thint.

The directorate of public prosecutions agreed to drop the charges in return for a statement by Thint director Alain Thetard confirming he was the author of a note which the Scorpions believe show Zuma was to be bribed.

Ngwema said the rest of the first two days of the hearing would be taken up by argument on an application by broadcaster to be allowed to televise the case live. Both the state and Shaik's legal team are opposing the application.

Shaik would not be required to stand in the dock while this was being resolved, he said.

Shaik, arrested in October 2001 after Scorpions raids on his home and the premises of his empowerment company Nkobi Holdings, is being charged with two counts of corruption and one of fraud.

In a charge sheet shot through with references to Zuma, the state alleges he made payments totalling R1.25m benefiting the deputy president between 1995 and 2002.

This was in return for Zuma's lending his clout to a series of deals to the advantage of Shaik's business interests. The payments, the charge sheets says, made "no legitimate business sense".

In addition, it claims, he arranged for Zuma to receive R500 000 a year from French arms manufacturer Thomson CSF, which had a shareholding in Thint.

This, the charge sheet says, was "a bribe in exchange for Zuma's protection and support of the accused for future projects".

Thomson CSF and Shaik both had a financial interest in a company named African Defence Systems, which had won a lucrative chunk of South Africa's multi-billion rand arms deal.

This protection was meant to be against investigations into alleged irregularities in the arms deal.

Former National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka announced last year that though there was prima facie evidence against Zuma, he would not be charged because "we are not sure if we have a winnable case".

Zuma will be represented in court by a team of four lawyers, not taking part in the formal proceedings, but observing developments on behalf of their client.

The prosecution team will be led by Billy Downer, while veteran advocate Francois van Zyl, himself a former prosecutor, will appear for Shaik.

Retired judge Hillary Squires will preside over the trial.

With acknowledgements to Wilmer Muller, Sapa and News24.