'I Did Lend Zuma Money'
The Natal Witness
The first step of Schabir Shaik's "thousand-mile journey", as Judge Hillary Squires described it, began on Wednesday at the Durban High Court.
Shaik pleaded not guilty to fraud and corruption charges, and in a 35-page plea explanation described his personal and financial relationship with Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
The document explains Shaik's willingness to help "his friend", whom he has known since the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s.
"At approximately the end of 1996 or the beginning of 1997, Zuma confided in me that he had serious financial problems and that he was considering leaving politics. I was concerned that such a move on his part might adversely affect the relative peace the province was experiencing and I implored him not to leave politics. As a close friend I was also prepared to do what I could to assist him," Shaik said.
Shaik said they discussed Zuma's financial problems, which included "not being able to afford a proper education for his children".
Shaik admits making numerous payments to Zuma or on behalf of Zuma. They included school fees, phone accounts, home loans, clothing accounts and vehicle financing.
"He was however insistent that he would only accept my assistance on the understanding that whatever funds I might spend on his behalf would be repaid to me. I reluctantly agreed that [any payments] would be regarded as loans to him, on the clear understanding that no interest would be payable thereon due to my religious beliefs," Shaik said. He is a Muslim, and charging interest is forbidden in Islam.
Today Shaik is linked to alleged corrupt and fraudulent financial transactions with Zuma. The state claims Shaik paid Zuma at least R1,2 million for his influence in business dealings, including the arms deal.
According to the state, Shaik played a pivotal role in the annual R500 000 bribe allegedly promised to Zuma by French arms company Thint. Charges against Thint have been withdrawn.
Before Shaik pleaded on Wednesday, judge Squires said he needed to clarify any "incorrect expectations" regarding the trial.
He said the trial is not a commission of inquiry into the arms deal and Zuma is not on trial.
Furthermore, it would be "unfair and premature" to accept the state's summary as the truth.
The state explained the charges against Shaik by means of a slide presentation.
Prosecutor Billy Downer said the state will prove the purpose of the bribe was to buy Zuma's support for Shaik's business projects and to ensure protection from an investigation into the arms deal.
Downer said future projects included Durban's new airport, the third cellular network, military deals, government projects and the N3 and N4 road developments.
The state will also prove that payment of R1,2 million to Zuma jeopardised the financial position of Nkobi Investments, a company owned by Shaik. Following the alleged payments to Zuma, the company was faced with cash-flow problems, failed ventures, not being able to fund shareholders' loans and continuous threats by its bank to reduce the company's overdraft.
With the help of witnesses, documentation and hearsay evidence, the state says it will prove that on February 28, 1999, Shaik "fraudulently" wrote-off the R1,2 million given to Zuma and that both Zuma and Shaik stood to gain from "making the money disappear from Nkobi Investments' books".
The state will call its first witness on Thursday at 10 am.
It is believed this will be Themba Sono, the deputy president of the Independent Democrats and a former executive director of Nkobi Holdings.
He resigned in 1997 after a dispute with Shaik over R75 000.
With acknowledgements to Nivashni Nair and The Natal Witness.