In Defence of Influence - Silence and Smear Campaigns
The case that would not go away
By this time Schabir Shaik knew that people would be watching, so Nkobi and the international arm of Thomson-CSF entered into a "service provider agreement" to disguise the payment of the bribe. Meanwhile, Deputy President Jacob Zuma's debt arising from his residential development at Nkandla grew from considerable to staggering.
The "service agreement" had a non-bribery clause next to which Shaik had written "conflicts with intention". Yet no money was paid.
Arrangements were made for Zuma to meet the French in Paris. Following this, R250 000 was paid to one of the companies that form part of Nkobi Holdings.
But by this time Zuma had much bigger problems. South Africa's foremost corruption buster at that stage, Judge Willem Heath, said he had been requested to investigate the arms deal. In a letter dated January 19 2001, written in his capacity as "Leader of Government Business" in parliament, Zuma wrote to Gavin Woods, then chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa):
"Furthermore, we are convinced that ... there is no need for the 'Heath Unit' to be involved in any 'investigation' of the defence acquisition. We hope this strange manner of proceeding was not driven by a determination to find the Executive guilty at all costs, based on the assumption we have already mentioned, that the Executive is prone to corruption and dishonesty."
The arms deal, rumours and the allegations about it, were dominating the front pages of newspapers.
Two months after this, a joint task team from the office of the auditor-general, the director of public prosecutions and the public protector received the green light to look into the arms deal. The joint task team found nothing amiss. Patricia de Lille, then still a member of the PAC, asked for a commission of inquiry. President Thabo Mbeki said no.
After a brief respite the arms deal returned to the front pages when ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni threatened to sue the Sunday Times for a story that he had received a huge discount on a luxury 4x4.
Almost a year later Yengeni was arrested on charges of corruption. He was sentenced to time in prison, but is appealing his sentence.
A year later, Schabir's brother Chippy was suspended at the Department of Defence. He later resigned.
In July 2001 Schabir Shaik wrote to Pierre Moynot of Thomson-CSF that he had had enough of trying to get the bribe money. "In addition (I am) throwing in the towel on matters which I believe will be in the interest of our state," he stated in his letter.
Shaik was then arrested for the possession of secret documents but said they were "mickey mouse" charges and vowed to walk out of court a free man.
South Africa's own FBI-style investigators, the Scorpions, had by now taken over the investigation. They raided Shaik's office.
Then they summoned him to appear to answer questions about his relationship with Zuma.
Shaik refused. He attacked the constitutionality of the National Prosecuting Authority Act, which provides incisive measures for the Scorpions to question him, saying that it infringed on his right to remain silent.
Advocate Billy Downer, who is leading the prosecution of Shaik, said in court papers that there were parts of the arms deal investigation that only Shaik could have helped them with - even an innocent explanation could help them wrap up their investigation, Downer said.
Zuma was also given a list of questions the Scorpions wanted answered. He answered his, denying the allegations of corruption against him.
Then one of the pivotal figures in the saga, advocate Gerda Ferreira, resigned.
At the same time statements by Mbeki cast a long shadow over the continuing existence of the Scorpions.
He was reported to have said that while there was no plan to dissolve the Scorpions, the structural tension between them and the police would have be to addressed. "They could quite easily become a specialised police unit," Mbeki was reported to have said.
While Shaik's appeal before the Constitutional Court was pending, then National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka announced his decision not to prosecute Zuma - a decision that went against the recommendation of his investigating team. Shaik and his companies were charged with corruption, fraud and a host of alternative charges taken from the Prevention of Organised Crime Act and the Companies Act. Part of the charges related to his "general corrupt relationship" with Zuma.
Shortly afterwards the Constitutional Court dismissed Shaik's appeal and the Scorpions said that they would now ask Shaik questions in open court.
But in the meantime a number of other investigations were triggered by information Scorpions investigators had found in Shaik's offices. One of these investigations was into the financial relationship between Mac Maharaj, former transport minister, and Shaik. As information on this was leaked to the media, a furious Maharaj laid charges against the Scorpions.
It was around this time that Ngcuka started complaining that there was an active smear campaign being waged against him. Matters came to a head when City Press published front page allegations that Ngcuka was a spy for the apartheid government. The claims were backed up by Shaik's other brother, Mo - a former diplomat - and Maharaj.
At the same time Auditor-General Shauket Fakie faced a grilling in parliament over alleged changes made to the joint task team's report into the arms deal.
Mbeki responded to the spy allegations by ordering that a commission of inquiry be held into the claims. Retired Judge Joos Hefer was appointed to head it.
After an entertaining three months in Bloemfontein, including a showdown with National Intelligence whose officers refused to testify, and with Zuma palpably absent, Judge Hefer concluded that he could not find that Ngcuka had been a spy. But after the commission, the Scorpions, whom Maharaj described as "leaking like a sinking ship", became quiet.
The leaks stopped. The news trickled to a drop. It is scheduled to become a flood again on Monday.
With acknowledgements to The Star.