'Thomson-CSF Met Chippy Shaik Before Shortlist Drawn Up'
Durban - A French company pursued the goodwill of a man codenamed "the tailor", believing his political connections were essential to its bidding successfully for an arms contract.
Forensic auditor Johan van der Walt, testifying in Schabir Shaik's trial here on fraud and corruption charges, said auditors believed "the tailor" was the person who had compiled a shortlist of preferred bidders in the arms deal or Yusuf Surtee, tailor to and close friend of former president Nelson Mandela.
He said documents proved there were a number of meetings between the Department of Defence chief of arms acquisitions, Chippy Shaik, and Thomson-CSF before the list of preferred bidders was finalised.
Billy Downer, SC, for the state, said the identity of "the tailor" was unimportant as the prosecution wanted only to demonstrate how Thomson-CSF had conducted its business.
Marion Marais, a former secretary to Thomson-CSF director Alain Thetard, has told the high court her boss's codename for Surtee was "the tailor".
The first reference to "the tailor" was found in a September 1997 fax in which Thetard's predecessor, Pierre Moynot, wrote: "Youssuf Surtee (sic) does in fact appear to be closer to Mandela than my first fax could suggest. It was through him that (French construction company) Bouygues obtained the motorway."
A South African subsidiary of Bouygues built the N4 toll road from Gauteng to Maputo.
In November 1997, Moynot expressed concern that "the tailor" might be speaking to others.
Later he wrote: "My feeling is 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 (Thabo Mbeki) should be arranged as soon as possible and should be used as an opportunity for him to meet Jacob Zuma."
Zuma was seen as a "rising man". Moynot had made a note that the "Zuma problem" was to be solved, the court heard.
In March 1998, Moynot arranged a visit by "Chairman Ranque" of Thomson-CSF International and wrote: "The tailor told me N Mandela would be there ... and perhaps one or two ministers. I am trying to convince him to get the minister of defence ... he does not seem to think Thabo will be there ... priority goes to Mandela and 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 Thomson-CSF considered political connections important to a successful bid and that Shaik shared this view.
Although Mandela and Mbeki were mentioned, their involvement was limited to attempts to resolve a black economic empowerment dispute involving Thomson-CSF.
To position itself to bid for the corvettes contract, Thomson, through its international parent, invested first in African Defence Systems (ADS), without involving its South African subsidiary in which Schabir Shaik's Nkobi held shares. This, documents show, upset Shaik.
After Zuma's intervention and through a complex process, the "technically bankrupt" Nkobi Holdings acquired a 20% indirect shareholding in ADS that gave it a stake in the R1.3bn contract awarded to ADS on the same day, Van der Walt said.
At the same time, Zuma's payments from Shaik and Nkobi rose to R432 456, he said.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and the Cape Times.