Publication: The Star Issued: Date: 2004-10-21 Reporter: Estelle Ellis

'Arms Dealer said Bribery was Normal Practice'



The Star

Date 2004-10-21


Estelle Ellis

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The man suspected of being at the centre of an alleged conspiracy to bribe Deputy President Jacob Zuma told his secretary that he did not understand the fuss about it, as "it was normal practice in France".

It was on this absent man that the Durban High Court yesterday set its focus. Alain Thetard, of the French arms company Thint, first worked in South Africa, then in Mauritius, and is now in France.

He is on the state's witness list, but no-one seems to have much faith that the prosecution will get him in the witness box.

He is, however, an integral part of the alleged conspiracy, which, the state claims, existed to bribe Zuma by paying him two instalments of R500 000 a year.

Zuma's financial adviser Schabir Shaik is on trial for, among other things, allegedly soliciting this bribe. He has also been charged with corruption and fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

In the absence of Thetard, the state chose to call two of his former employees and handed in some of his documents, including one setting out the terms of the "bribe".

Advocate Billy Downer SC, for the state, said they hoped to prove they were written by Thetard.

Both of Thetard's former secretaries, Marion Marais and Sue Delique, told the court the alleged bribe document was in his handwriting.

Marais was the third secretary to give evidence, following Delique and Shaik's former secretary Bianca Singh. She said that Thetard's volatile and arrogant nature was the main reason she resigned. "He was incredibly difficult to work for. He once threw his keys at me."

She said when she went to resign, she asked a driver to stay on at the office because she "was nervous".

She added that Thetard was a very secretive man and would lock documents in his office. "There were at least three shredding machines." She said Thetard had instructed her that his draft documents either be filed or shredded.

Marais said that on the day Patricia de Lille - then a Pan Africanist Congress MP - spoke in parliament about her arms deal suspicions, a man from another French company in Pretoria rushed into her office.

"He wanted to see Mr Thetard urgently. Mr Thetard invited him in and closed his door. This was something he almost never did," she said.

"I heard agitated voices. Something was amiss. Mr Thetard then asked me to find out what exactly De Lille said in parliament. He said it did not matter how I found out, I must just do it. When I could not, he was not happy. On another occasion, there was a newspaper on my desk with headlines about the arms deal. Mr Thetard said: 'Why does this make such headlines in South Africa? It would be normal practice in France',".

"What did he refer to?" advocate Anton Steynberg, for the state, asked Marais.

"Bribery," she answered.

She further said Thetard often sought the audience of influential people, a number of whom were referred to by codenames. She said Thetard particularly had sought an interview with Zuma through Shaik. "I remember clearly that one day he was rubbing his hands and making big eyes. 'This time,' he said, 'I will be able to meet Zuma'."

By the time the state alleges the fax was written by Thetard, Marais was no longer working for him. Delique was his secretary by then.

In cross-examination earlier in the day by advocate Francois van Zyl SC, for Shaik, Delique said Thetard had kept a copy of the much-discussed document, but the handwritten copy he had given her was on her desk.

Van Zyl said that when the Scorpions raided the South African, Mauritian and French offices of Thint, they did not find other copies - only the handwritten document provided by Delique. "Thetard is also a witness for the state. Should he be called to give evidence, and should he tell us that he gave no instructions for this letter to be typed and faxed, what would you say?" he asked Delique.

"I would say he did," Delique answered.

With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and The Star.