Intrigue Over Who Was Arms Deal 'Tailor'
A French arms company pursued the goodwill of a man codenamed "the tailor", believing that his political connectivity was essential for a successful arms-deal bid.
This was the evidence before the Durban High Court yesterday as forensic auditor Johan van der Walt started his third day of evidence in the corruption and fraud trial of businessman Schabir Shaik.
Shaik has pleaded not guilty.
Van der Walt said auditors believed "the tailor" was either the person who compiled a short-list of preferred bidders in the multi-billion-rand arms deal, or Yusuf Surtee, a real tailor and close friend of Nelson Mandela's.
Advocate Billy Downer SC, for the state, said it did not matter who "the tailor" was - they just wanted to prove how Thomson conducted its business.
The state alleges that Thomson, as Van der Walt's report made it clear, were firm believers in the backdoor-bidding process - where who one knew was more important than what one tendered.
A previous witness, Marion Marais, former secretary for Thomson-CSF director Alain Thetard, said her boss's codename for Surtee was "the tailor". Reference to "the tailor" first surfaced in a September 1997 fax from Thetard's predecessor Pierre Moynot.
"Youssuf Surtee (sic) does in fact appear to be closer to Mandela than my first fax could suggest. It was through him that Bouygues obtained the motorway," Moynot wrote.
(A South African subsidiary of Bouygues built the N4 toll road linking Johannesburg and Maputo.)
In November 1997, Moynot expressed concern that "the tailor" might be speaking to others as well.
Later that year, Moynot wrote: "My feeling is that our friend is certainly reliable and I believe that if we wish, if not to sell corvettes, then at least to secure the combat system and the sensors, a visit by (Jean Pierre Perrier, a director of Thomson-CSF) to the deputy president (then Thabo Mbeki) should be arranged as soon as possible and should be used as an opportunity for him to meet with Jacob Zuma."
At the time, Zuma was regarded as "a rising man".
The court also heard that Moynot made a note that the "Zuma problem" was to be solved.
In March 1998 Moynot organised a visit by the chairperson of Thomson-CSF International, identified in court only as "Chairman Ranque", and wrote: "The tailor told me that N Mandela would be there, of course, and perhaps one or two ministers. I am trying to convince him to get the Minister of Defence also."
"At the moment he does not seem to think that Thabo will be there. I shall therefore see if we could meet him. The problem is that priority goes to Mandela and that as long as Youssuf cannot confirm the place and the time, it is a bit difficult to organise an appointment with Thabo."
Van der Walt said he had concluded that the Thomson-CSF group regarded political connectivity as important for success in the adjudication of the arms deal, and that this view was shared by Shaik.
However, in July 1998, Shaik's brother Chippy, chief of arms acquisitions in the Department of Defence, warned Thomson-CSF against the "tailor", saying he had no "political and/or historical legitimacy" and his only connection "to N Mandela was insufficient to relay their action here".
"He suggests to us to think about (what) would happen in one year (after the elections) and asks us to imagine the weakness of our support," Thetard wrote.
Van der Walt said Mandela and Mbeki were mentioned in the documents he had read but their involvement was limited to attempts to resolve a black economic empowerment dispute involving Thomson-CSF.
He also said documents proved that there were a number of meetings between Chippy Shaik and Thomson-CSF before the list of preferred bidders for the arms deal was finalised.
To position itself strategically to enable its bid for the corvette part of the arms deal, Thomson - through its international company - first directly invested in African Defence Systems (ADS), without involving its South African subsidiary, in which Shaik's company Nkobi held shares.
This caused Schabir Shaik to be very upset. Around this time, Moynot noted that Shaik "definitely seems to have the sulks".
Van der Walt explained that after Zuma's intervention, and through a complex, intricate process, the "technically bankrupt" Nkobi Holdings acquired a 20% indirect shareholding in ADS. In this way they could share in the R1,3-billion contract deal awarded to ADS on the same day.
At the same time, Zuma's payments from Shaik and Nkobi escalated to R432 456, he said.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and The Star.