Publication: Daily News Issued: Date: 2004-10-19 Reporter: Jeremy Gordin Reporter: Estelle Ellis

Shaik's PA Challenged



Daily News

Date 2004-10-19


Jeremy Gordin, Estelle Ellis

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Bianca quizzed over phone calls to 'JZ'

Schabir Shaik's former personal assistant, Bianca Singh, was back in the witness stand today, challenged over her boss's alleged telephone conversations with Jacob Zuma and Chippy Shaik, and a set of Corvette plans.

Yesterday she told the Durban High Court and Judge Hilary Squires how Shaik enjoyed the high life, used his influence with politicians, paid for Zuma's suits and how she walked out on Shaik after a "personal incident" in Mauritius.

Today Francois van Zyl SC, for Shaik, made it clear that Singh was confused about a conversation she said Shaik had first with Chippy, his brother, who was the government's senior procurement officer for the arms deal, and then with Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

Singh had earlier told the court that in 1998 she had been in Shaik's office when he took a call from Chippy, then head of arms acquisition in the defence department and a person playing a key role in the multi-billion rand arms procurement programme.

Shaik had told Chippy "not to worry" and he had immediately dialled another number and said "Hello my brother, hello JZ", Singh said.

"Chippy's under pressure and we really need your help to land this deal."*

Van Zyl pointed out to the court that Singh had made no reference to Shaik's conversation with Chippy when she made her statement to the Scorpions.

"At the time Zuma was MEC in KwaZulu-Natal, he had no power concerning the arms deal," Van Zyl said. Advocate Billy Downer SC immediately objected, saying this was not a proven fact.

Singh also conceded that she had been mistaken about the date when these vital phone calls took place.

Singh said she was no longer certain whether the calls had taken place some time between mid-1998 and March 1999, as she had originally claimed, or in October 2000* when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts was deliberating on the arms deal.

Van Zyl also put it to her that Shaik never called Zuma "JZ" but only "my brother" or "chief". Singh said she had, on a number of occasions, heard Shaik call Zuma "JZ".

Van Zyl's cross examination also dealt with Singh's evidence that she saw diagrams of a corvette in Shaik's office as early as 1996.

This evidence was led in support of the State's allegations that Shaik had positioned his company, Nkobi Holdings, at an early stage to obtain one of the contracts in the arms deal.

Van Zyl pointed out that Shaik was saying that the diagrams Singh saw were pictures of a patrol vessel which were drawn up as part of a tender for the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Singh studied the pictures Van Zyl handed to her and said: "They look like warships to me."

Yesterday, Singh said Shaik had lived the high life - flying first class and buying expensive clothes for himself and deputy president Jacob Zuma who, Shaik told her, had a propensity for wearing "cheap" suits.

But Shaik, also according to Singh's evidence, had to pay a price for the good life.

Having promoted her from receptionist to PA, Singh said Shaik had told her she would have to be at his "beck and call" - just as he was in perpetual servitude to various "ministers" and politicians.

Singh said that he had said that he "has to carry a jar of Vaseline because he gets f****d all the time but that's okay because he gets what he wants and they get want they want".

Later, explaining why she had left his employ, Singh started to tell the story of "an incident of a personal nature" that allegedly took place one night in Shaik's bungalow at La Pirogue hotel on Mauritius.

The two had gone to the island to attend a meeting with Alain Thetard of the arms dealer and manufacturer, Thomson.

But Van Zyl asked what relevance the details could have for the case on hand. Judge Squires agreed.

What did emerge from what Singh did tell, however, was that she left Shaik's bungalow in a hurry and refused to take his telephone calls.

The next morning Singh dumped company documents at reception, flew out of Mauritius a day before she was due to do so, and never spoke to Shaik again.

Within two days she was in discussions with his lawyer. A confidentiality agreement was drawn up and she soon received monies owed to her by Nkobi Holdings.

Singh also testified that at the Mauritius meeting in November 2000 with Thetard and another man from arms dealer Thomson, Thetard had seemed surprised that she had been brought by Shaik, but Shaik said she would take minutes.

During the meeting, Shaik, pulling out cuttings about the arms deal investigations, and said that the men needed to discuss "damage control".

Singh said Shaik had told the meeting that if the Heath Special Investigating Unit went ahead and investigated the arms deal, "we'll be under pressure".

He also said, according to Singh, that "if a certain ANC person opens his mouth, we'll be in big trouble".

Singh said that because the person had "an African name", she had had trouble spelling it and had asked Shaik for help.

Shaik had said to her: "I hope you're not writing down all this stuff," and she was asked to leave.

She said she could not remember the name of the man to whom Shaik had referred.

Hilary Squires, the presiding judge at the trial of Durban businessman Schabir Shaik, today made it clear that he would not "allow for trial by newspaper".

The judge's comments followed a report over the weekend in the Sunday Tribune on a confidential report that is still to be entered as evidence.

The judge said that Shaik must be tried by the court and he reminded journalists that their right to freedom of expression was not absolute.

With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin, Estelle Ellis and the Daily News.

* van Zyl's attempts to deflect killer evidence through cross-examination are illogical. There was no reason to get support for landing the corvette combat suite deal in October 2000 because Thomson and ADS had already got their contract in December 1999.

There were definite and multiple instances of government intervention in the corvette combat suite selection process between early December 1998 and mid-January 1999.

There were further, multiple and documented instances of intervention by Chippy Shaikh in the corvette combat suite selection process between early February 1999 and late May 1999.