Publication: The Star Issued: Date: 2004-10-19 Reporter: Estelle Ellis

Shaik Asked 'JZ' to Help Him Land Deal, Court Told



The Star

Date 2004-10-19


Estelle Ellis

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Schabir Shaik had wanted to discuss "damage control" with his French partner after a corruption-buster threatened to investigate the arms deal.

This was the testimony yesterday of Bianca Singh, Shaik's former personal assistant, in his corruption and fraud trial in the Durban High Court.

Shaik has pleaded not guilty to two charges of corruption and another of fraud. The two corruption charges relate to his relationship with Deputy President Jacob Zuma, which Shaik claims was only friendship.

But the state says it was a corrupt relationship involving the exchange of money for the use of Zuma's name and influence, in efforts by Shaik's company, Nkobi Holdings, to obtain government contracts.

Singh took most of the morning to explain what she knew about Nkobi's dealings.

She confirmed the state's allegation that Shaik had paid money to Zuma, bought clothes for him and paid his children's tuition fees.

She also said she was a witness to a call in which Shaik told his brother Chippy, then head of acquisitions in the Department of Defence, not to worry.

She also overheard a subsequent call Shaik made to Zuma in which he asked for his help to "land the deal". This, Singh said, referred to the arms deal.

She then testified about a meeting between Shaik and French arms company Thomson-CSF where Shaik, according to her, said: "We have to discuss damage control. If the Heath investigation continues, we will be under a lot of pressure, and if a certain ANC member opens his mouth, we would be in big trouble."

This was in November 2000, at the time when Judge Willem Heath, then leader of a crack anti-corruption unit, indicated that he wished to investigate the country's multibillion-rand arms deal. Singh said that shortly after he had said this, Shaik asked her to leave the meeting.

"I did not see the minutes of that meeting again," she said.

Under cross-examination, advocate Francois van Zyl SC, for Shaik, said his client would not quarrel with the evidence that there was a close friendship between him and Zuma.

But, Van Zyl pointed out, as his client had said in his plea explanation, the only reason money changed hands was because Shaik was administering Zuma's finances.

Singh conceded that she had no knowledge of an arrangement between Shaik and Zuma.

After further cross-examination, Singh conceded that her information about Nkobi's projects was secondhand, and that she had attended only one meeting in Mauritius where a project was discussed.

She also admitted that her other information was based on what she heard when she "had to walk in" on meetings to bring Shaik documents.

Van Zyl said Singh had tried to create the impression that Shaik "always used the names of Jacob Zuma and other ministers" when she had, in fact, heard it in only one meeting.

Singh said she also heard him say that on the telephone.

She said she did not make any notes after overhearing the phone conversations between Shaik and his brother Chippy and Zuma, and that she did not tell anybody about it.

She confirmed to the court that she had recalled this only when she was interviewed by the Scorpions in July 2001.

She had confused the time of the conversation. She first said it took place late in 1998, and later said it happened at the time of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) inquiry, which was in 2000. The latter, she said, was a mistake.

Singh's evidence was to continue today.

With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and The Star.