Gallic Temper, Fawning, Fear and Faxes at Arms Bidder
Tim Cohen, Nicola Jenvey, Sapa
Durban - Two secretaries told harrowing stories yesterday at the corruption trial of businessman Schabir Shaik about working in the office of French arms company Thomson CSF a place of tantrums, fawning over politicians, encrypted fax machines and more document shredders than computers.
Marion Marais, the secretary to South African operations head Alain Thetard for about a year in 1998, followed onto the witness stand the woman who had been her successor at the company, Susan Delique.
Marais testified that Thetard had an "explosive temper", was "arrogant" and "volatile" and threw things at his staff, "including keys".
She said Thetard was very "agitated" when he heard the now Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille made allegations in Parliament about the arms deal.
Thetard later told Marais that he could not understand why the South African newspapers were making such a fuss about "bribery" in connection with the arms deal, because in France it would be considered completely normal and commonplace.
"If it was so normal, why was he so agitated?" asked Judge Hillary Squires. Prosecutor Anton Steinberg explained it might have had to do with the press coverage.
Marais said Thetard had instructed her never to throw documents into a rubbish bin, and would get very angry if she did so. There were three shredders in the office, and two computers.
"I got the impression that he was very secretive and a lot of the things were confidential," Marais said.
Squires and the defence team intervened several times during Marais's evidence. The state was repeatedly asked about the relevance of her evidence as the company was no longer being charged.
In evidence led earlier in the day, Thetard's former secretary, Delique, conceded that she had left a potentially incriminating handwritten note lying on her desk for more than three weeks.
The note related to the infamous encrypted fax allegedly implicating Deputy President Jacob Zuma in a R500000 annual bribe. Prosecutors say it sheds light on links between Shaik, Zuma and the arms deal.
Yesterday Squires confirmed with Delique that not keeping up to date with filing had meant she left the document lying on her desk amid other papers for several weeks.
Delique resigned officially from the company in early April 2000, expecting to work out a two-week notice period, but Thetard insisted she leave the next morning.
When hastily clearing out her personal belongings under Thetard's watchful eye, she said, she scooped up a pile of papers from her desk. She later discovered the handwritten document from which she had typed the fax that outlined Zuma's alleged yearly retainer from the company.
Defence counsel Francois van Zyl asked Delique whether a salary dispute between her and Thetard was linked to her telling company auditors Arthur Anderson about his irregular accounting practices.
Delique said she told the auditors Thetard put personal expenses through Thomson's books and did not tell the French holding company "the whole truth" .
Squires warned the media at the start of the day's hearing that the fax was hearsay until the author of the note was identified. The case continues today.
With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen, Nicola Jenvey and the Business Day.