Publication: Business Day Date: 2004-10-26 Reporter: Tim Cohen Reporter: Nicola Jenvey

Mbeki 'Gave French His Word' on Arms Deal



Business Day

Date 2004-10-26


Tim Cohen, Nicola Jenvey

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Documents presented at the trial of businessman Schabir Shaik yesterday suggest that President Thabo Mbeki gave an assurance to French arms manufacturers that they would get part of the arms deal long before the adjudication process had taken place.

The documents were presented by KPMG director Johan van der Walt, as part of his lengthy forensic report which has been the main subject of the trial for the past three days.

The apparent confirmation that political manoeuvres may have taken place before the formal adjudication process could open the state to substantial damages from losing bidders.

One key document presented yesterday was an encrypted fax written by Pierre Moynot, a senior negotiator of French arms company Thomson CSF, now called Thales, to his colleagues relating a conversation between himself and a mystery figure.

The fax says: "He has handed the NCS Executive Summary to the deputy president (Mbeki at this stage), who, he says, is very satisfied particularly with the offsets offered. To my question as to whether, under the present circumstances, our bid could have any chance, he said that we should submit it as soon as possible. Then, a little later on, he repeated he had obtained assurance from the deputy president that we would be awarded the combat system and the sensors."

The documents were unearthed during a search and seizure operation the Scorpions conducted at the headquarters of Thomson CSF in Paris.

The document is dated 28/11/97, which was close to the date of the corvette tender on October 31 that year, seven months before the shortlist of bidders was presented to the Armaments Acquisition Steering Board, and a year before the preferred suppliers were decided by the cabinet in November 1998.

Moynot was apparently reporting to colleagues in his company, named in the fax simply as "M Dennis / B de Bollardiere".

Shaik has pleaded not guilty to charges that allege he was at the centre of a scheme that secured the French arms company a lucrative slice of the R6 billion contract to supply the navy with combat suites for its new corvettes.

Defence counsel Francois van Zyl gave notice yesterday he intended challenging this evidence .

Judge Hillary Squires at one stage questioned the relevance of the testimony, saying the trial was not a probe into the arms deal.

There was some confusion in court yesterday about the person with whom Moynot had held the discussions mentioned in the fax. The translator of the document identified the person as "the person responsible for the short list", who is described in French as "the tailleur" which means "the cutter". The translator made the assumption that this was the person who short-listed the bidders.

However, a character codenamed "the tailor" has been identified by previous witnesses as Yusuf Surtee, who was given the name because he was responsible for Nelson Mandela's wardrobe.

Van der Walt testified that from the documents, either interpretation was possible. A fax sent by Moynot a few months earlier mentioned Surtee, saying: "Youssuf (sic) Surtee does in fact appear to be closer to Mandela than my first fax could suggest. It is through him that Bouygues obtained the motorway contract."

Van der Walt's testimony was based on documents gathered in France, from files taken from Shaik's office, and documents seized from the office of the auditors of Shaik's Nkobi group.

Taken as a whole the documents suggest a frantic positioning process among bidders , who relied on different relationships, and at one stage Moynot even apparently relied on information from the French secret service.

With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen, Nicola Jenvey and the Business Day.