The Dud Cheques that Zuma Wrote
Xolisa Vapi, Paddy Harper
According to a report to be tested in court, 140 cheques signed by the deputy president with a collective value of more than R447 766,67 bounced
Deputy President Jacob Zuma lived large but paid his bills very, very slowly if at all.
South Africa’s second citizen had such a fundamentally flawed sense of personal financial discipline that a massive 140 of his signed cheques with a collective value of more than R447 766,67 bounced.
That happened over seven years, from 1996 to 2003. The reason: he did not have the money in the bank or available through his overdraft to support his spending habits.
But Zuma’s financial chaos did not end there.
Standard Bank took back the MasterCard it had granted, because his debt escalated to R120 000 by June 1997.
In May 1999, Permanent Bank issued judgment against the man who is set to become South Africa’s next president after the end of Thabo Mbeki’s term, because he missed 20 bond repayments on his Durban flat.
These and other details of how Zuma conducted his financial affairs will be presented in the Durban High Court this week as part of the evidence of forensic auditors KPMG.
The report, presented by auditor and self-confessed “bloodhound” Johan van der Walt, was admitted as part of the court record on Thursday, but the evidence around Zuma will only be heard and tested this week.
Last November, KPMG was asked by the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions to compile the report which stretches to 259 pages and a dozen files of supporting documentation and addendums to assist with the prosecution of Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik on corruption charges.
Even Shaik’s appointment as Zuma’s financial adviser in 1995 did not help lessen the then kwaZulu-Natal Economic Affairs MEC’s financial woes, although his relationship with Shaik did see him benefit by more than R1,2-million.
According to the state’s evidence, Shaik used money from his Nkobi Group money which came mainly from overdraft facilities given to various Nkobi companies to bankroll Zuma’s extravagant lifestyle.
Shaik picked up the tab for everything from rent to bond payments, to school fees, to car payments, to telephone bills, to repairs on Zuma’s luxury vehicles.
He even bought Armani and Gucci and suits from his friend Prakash Soni’s exclusive Casanova boutique, after commenting to his then personal assistant, Bianca Singh, that Msholozi (Zuma’s clan name) wore “cheap suits”.
According to the state, no amount was too large or too small for the cash-strapped deputy president.
Zuma was not above collecting an envelope from Singh containing a mere R700 R200 from Shaik’s wallet and R500 from the Nkobi petty-cash tin at the air force base in Durban in late 2000. The envelope was delivered to Zuma by Singh on Shaik’s instruction, at a time when Zuma’s accounts were so heavily overdrawn that any deposit would have been immediately swallowed by the bank.
At the other end of the scale, in 1999 Shaik’s Kobitech stumped up R50 000 to pay the arrears on Zuma’s Mercedes- Benz E320, which he had bought for R350 000 in 1997. In 2002 Kobitech (for which, read Shaik) was again Zuma’s rescuer, this time coughing up some R47 000 towards his Mitsubishi Pajero, which he had bought in May 2001 for R275 000.
Annual payments to Zuma from Shaik and Nkobi companies began with a modest R3 500 in 1995, peaking at R256 423 in 1997. By 2002, Shaik and Nkobi’s largesse towards Zuma had totalled R126 9836,40.
According to the KPMG report, the payments did not stop in 2002, the cut-off date for its investigative mandate.
“Evidence [will] be led in court that the practice of payments made for and on behalf of Zuma continued subsequent to this date,” the report says.
It adds that “Zuma’s financial position did not improve during the time when Shaik acted as his financial adviser”.
The constant bail-outs, the report says, ran Shaik’s companies deep into the red, with Zuma receiving large chunks of cash financed by overdrafts on Nkobi companies.
Absa Private Bank initially declined Shaik’s application in April 2001 as he had a “high risk rating” and had exceeded his overdraft limit 15 times in 12 months. However, Absa took a “strategic decision” to accept his application “because Shaik was the financial advisor of Zuma”.
This was not to last. Three months later, Absa again declared him a high risk with “no tangible security” and moved his account to an ordinary business centre.
According to the report, the constant payments to Zuma “had a material impact on the cash flow of the Nkobi Group”.
Kobitech’s overdraft facilities were “exceeded by the cumulative amount of payments made by the company for and on behalf of Zuma”.
In his plea, Shaik does not deny making the payments, but argues that he did so out of altruism to help his former comrade, whose political career was threatened by his indebtedness.
The money, Shaik says, was to be repaid without interest when Zuma’s finances eventually stabilised.
The state’s interpretation is a lot less benign. The money, the state argues, was aimed at buying Zuma’s influence and protection as Nkobi in 1995 an embryonic company with little in assets or expertise hustled to get itself a lucrative slice of the empowerment cake.
On Friday, Van der Walt led evidence that Zuma had started to try using his influence on Shaik’s behalf as early as 1995 when Shaik was attempting to convince Malaysian giant Renong to cut him in for 49% of the ill-fated Point Waterfront deal in Durban. At the time, empowerment baron Mzi Khumalo was already Renong’s chosen bedfellow, and Shaik’s bid placed him in direct conflict with Khumalo’s group.
The report says Zuma “attempted to assist involving Nkobi Group as part of the shareholding in the Point development” from June 1996 until the deal collapsed in February 1997.
With acknowledgements to Xolisa Vapi, Paddy Harper and the Sunday Times.