'I Don't Understand Fuss About Arms Deal Bribe'
Durban - The man alleged to have bribed Deputy President Jacob Zuma told his secretary he did not understand the fuss about it, as "it was normal practice in France".
It was on this absent man that the Durban High Court yesterday set its focus. Alain Thetard, of the French arms company Thint, first worked in South Africa, then in Mauritius and is now in France.
He is on the state's witness list, but nobody seems to have much faith that the prosecution will succeed in getting him to the witness box.
He is, however, an integral part of the conspiracy which, the state claims, existed to bribe Zuma by paying him two instalments of R500 000 a year.
Zuma's financial adviser and friend, Schabir Shaik, is on trial for, among other things, allegedly soliciting this bribe. He has also been charged with two counts of corruption and another of fraud. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
In the absence of Thetard, who was described as volatile and arrogant by one of his secretaries, the state called two former employees and handed some of his letters, notes and a document setting out the terms of the Zuma bribe. Advocate Billy Downer SC for the state said they hoped to prove these were written by Thetard.
Both Thetard's former secretaries, Marion Marais and Sue Delique, told the court the alleged bribe document was in his handwriting.
Marais was the third secretary to give evidence in the trial, following Delique and Shaik's former secretary Bianca Singh. She said yesterday Thetard's volatile and arrogant nature was the main reason for her resignation. "He was incredibly difficult to work for. He once threw his keys at me."
She said when she went to resign, she asked a driver to stay on at the office because she "was nervous".
Marais added that Thetard was a very secretive man and would lock documents in his office.
"There were at least three shredding machines," she said. She testified that Thetard had instructed her that his draft documents must either be filed or shredded.
"He always instructed me not to throw things in the dustbin but to shred it. I got the impression that he was very secretive. 'Don't file this one', he would say of a document. 'I want it back'."
Marais told the court that on the day that PAC MP (at the time) Patricia de Lille talked in parliament about her suspicions about the arms deal, a man from another French company in Pretoria rushed into her office.
"He wanted to see Mr Thetard urgently. He was definitely agitated. Mr Thetard invited him in and closed his door. This was something he almost never did.
"I heard agitated voices. Something was amiss. Mr Thetard then asked me to find out what exactly De Lille said in parliament. He said it did not matter how I found out, I must just do it. When I could not, he was not happy.
"On another occasion there was a newspaper on my desk, with headlines about the arms deal. Mr Thetard looked at it and said: 'Why does this make such headlines in South Africa? It would be normal practice in France'," Marais said.
"What did he refer to?" advocate Anton Steynberg, for the state, asked Marais. "Bribery," she answered.
She further said that Thetard often sought the audience of influential people, a number of whom were referred to by codenames.
"I remember clearly that one day he was rubbing his hands and making big eyes. 'This time', he said, 'I will be able to meet Zuma'."
By the time the State alleges the bribe fax was written by Thetard, Marais was no longer working for him. Delique was his secretary by then.
In cross-examination earlier in the day by advocate Francois van Zyl SC, for Shaik, Delique said Thetard had kept a copy of the much-discussed document, but the handwritten copy he had given her was on her desk.
Van Zyl said that when the Scorpions raided the South African, Mauritian and French offices of Thint, they did not find other copies of the fax - they only had the handwritten document given to them by Delique.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and the Cape Times.