Lessons from Shaik Trial : a Secretary's Silence is Worth More than R40 000
Parallels between damning testimony from former PAs Singh and Delique
Some of the most noteworthy slices of evidence in the trial of Durban businessman Schabir Shaik so far have been lurid: political sleaze mixed with sexual innuendo, secretaries and their similarities.
From early on, the trial was billed as the "revenge of the secretaries". And so it has turned out.
But a remarkable aspect of the case so far is the truly amazing similarities of the testimony of the second and third witnesses, secretaries to different people.
Both had tantalisingly unexplained, but clearly unpleasant, interactions with their bosses. Both found crucial new evidence just before the trial. Both received lumps of cash after they left the employ of their bosses. And in both cases, it was R40 000.
Apparently there is a going rate for keeping secretaries from revealing business secrets , and clearly it is not enough.
The first secretary to give evidence, Bianca Singh, was Shaik's personal assistant. She testified that just a week before the trial she found among her possessions her former boss's diary.
This provided the state with an opportunity to fix dates with more certainty than it otherwise might have been able, and to do so against a written record.
The second secretary to give evidence, Susan Delique, worked for a very short time for Alain Thetard, the head of operations for a time of the local subsidiary of French arms company Thomson-CSF, now called Thales.
She discovered just last month a written copy of the now notorious encrypted fax on a computer disk at her home. The fax is one of the important links the state wants to make between Thetard, Shaik and Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
How important this turns out to be remains to be seen, since Delique also had in her possession, and had given to the Scorpions early on in the investigation, a handwritten copy of the contents of the fax, which she said was written by Thetard.
The defence team has objected to this evidence being placed before court in terms of hearsay rules, and it has been agreed that this will be argued at the conclusion of the state's case.
But the appearance of the typed version of the fax on a computer disk must tend to collaborate Delique's evidence.
What exactly went wrong in Delique's relationship with Thetard was not revealed in court, and neither was it clear whether the issue was of a personal or professional nature.
Delique complained about several professional issues, including her salary, the extent of her duties and the amount of overtime she worked. But she also testified to an "unpleasant experience" involving Thetard.
Singh was not much more explicit, but it was agreed between the state and the defence that "an incident of a personal nature" took place with Shaik.
Just how personal it was became implicit in her testimony that she suddenly left the La Pirogue Hotel in Mauritius, where she was attending meetings with Shaik and Thomson's personnel, and never went back. She was later contacted by Shaik's lawyers and asked to sign a confidentiality agreement, which she did. She was then paid R40 000.
Singh testified, in evidence challenged by the defence, that she was told by one of the lawyers that the agreement was necessary since she knew too much about Shaik's relationship with Zuma.
The R40 000 paid to Delique appears to be more conventional, being a sum paid for overtime. But it was paid after she had left the employ of Thomson-CSF.
The pair differed in one crucial respect: Singh was apparently a willing witness. Delique made it very clear she did not want to get involved in the case.
It is not clear whether any more secretaries are due to give evidence at the trial, since an undisclosed number of witnesses do not appear on the witness list.
But given what the two have testified to so far, Shaik must be hoping this is the end of evidence provided by that profession.
With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen and the Business Day.