Shaik 'Sought Damage Limit'
Durban businessman Schabir Shaik wanted to discuss "damage control" with his company's French partner after one of South Africa's foremost corruption busters threatened to start investigating the arms deal.
This was one of the things a former personal assistant of Shaik's, Bianca Singh, remembered as she gave evidence in Shaik's trial in the Durban High Court yesterday.
Shaik has pleaded not guilty to two charges of corruption and another of fraud. The two corruption charges relate to the relationship between Shaik and Deputy President Jacob Zuma - which Shaik says was only friendship. The state says it was a corrupt relationship involving the exchange of money for the use of Zuma's name and influence, in efforts by Shaik's company Nkobi Holdings to obtain government contracts.
Singh, who said she left Nkobi Holdings after an "incident of a personal nature" with Shaik in his bungalow at the luxury Mauritian La Pirogue resort, took the better part of the morning to explain what she knew about Nkobi's dealings.
She confirmed the state's allegation that Shaik had paid money to Zuma, bought clothes for him and paid his children's tuition fees.
She also said she was a witness to a phone call in which Shaik told his brother, Chippy, not to worry and subsequently phoned Zuma and asked for his help to "land the deal". This, Singh said, referred to the arms deal.
She followed this with her evidence of a meeting between Shaik and French arms company Thomson-CSF where Shaik, according to her, said: "We have to discuss damage control. If the Heath investigation continues we will be under a lot of pressure and if a certain ANC member opens his mouth, we would be in big trouble." This was in November 2000, at the time that Judge Willem Heath, at that stage the leader of a crack anti-corruption unit, indicated that he wished to investigate the country's multibillion-rand arms deal. Singh said that soon after he said this, Shaik asked her to leave the meeting.
In cross-examination, advocate Francois van Zyl SC, for Shaik, said his client would not quarrel with the evidence that there was a close friendship between him and Zuma.
But, Van Zyl pointed out, as his client had said in his plea explanation, the only reason money changed hands between the two friends was because Shaik was administering Zuma's finances.
Singh conceded that she had no knowledge of an arrangement between Shaik and Zuma.
After further cross-examination Singh conceded that her information about Nkobi's projects was second-hand, and that she had only attended one meeting in Mauritius where a project was discussed.
She also admitted that her other information was based on what she heard when she "had to walk in" on meetings to give Shaik documents.
Van Zyl said she tried to create the impression that Shaik "always used the names of Jacob Zuma and other ministers" when she had only heard it in one meeting.
Singh said she also heard him say that on the telephone. She confirmed to the court that she had only recalled this when she had been interviewed by the Scorpions in July 2001.
The trial, before Justice Hilary Squires, continues today.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and The Mercury.