Bianca Singh Says She Resigned after 'Incident of a Personal Nature'
Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Gordin
‘I knew too much’ Shaik’s ex-PA tells why she was asked to sign paper after she quit
Schabir Shaik’s former personal assistant was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement when she quit because she “knew too much” about her boss’s relationship with deputy president Jacob Zuma.
Bianca Singh, who is under witness protection, made this allegation yesterday in the Durban High Court where Shaik is standing trial on charges of fraud and corruption.
Singh claimed she resigned after an “unfortunate incident of a personal nature” between herself and Shaik at the La Pirogue Hotel in Mauritius.
After this incident she left all the company documents, including the minutes of a confidential meeting, at the hotel’s reception, and flew out of Mauritius, leaving Shaik behind.
The next day she was contacted by his lawyer and came to an agreement about the fact that she would not be returning to Nkobi Holdings, Shaik’s company, and the payment of her outstanding salary.
Singh told the court Shaik and she had flown to the island because he had wanted to discuss “damage control” with his French partner after a corruption-buster threatened to investigate the arms deal.
Shaik has pleaded not guilty to two charges of corruption and another of fraud. The two corruption charges relate to his relationship with Zuma, which Shaik claims was only one of friendship.
But the state says it was a corrupt relationship involving the exchange of money for the use of Zuma’s name and influence, in efforts by Shaik’s company, Nkobi Holdings, to obtain government contracts.
Singh took most of the morning to explain what she knew about Nkobi’s dealings. She confirmed the state’s allegation that Shaik had paid money to Zuma, bought clothes for him and paid his children’s tuition fees.
Singh said she was a witness to a call in which Shaik told his brother Chippy, then head of acquisitions in the Department of Defence, not to worry.
She also overheard a subsequent call Shaik made to Zuma in which he said: “Chippy’s under pressure and we really need your help to land this deal.” This, Singh said, referred to the arms deal.
During cross-examination by Shaik’s advocate Francois van Zyl SC, Singh conceded that she had been mistaken about the date when a vital set of cellular phone calls took place.
She was no longer certain whether the calls had taken place sometime between mid-1988 and March 1999, as she had originally claimed, or in October 2000 around about the time that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) was deliberating on the arms deal.
Van Zyl said his client would not quarrel with the evidence that there was a close friendship between him and Zuma.
But, Van Zyl pointed out, as his client had said in his plea explanation, the only reason money changed hands was because Shaik was administering Zuma’s finances.
Singh conceded that she had no knowledge of an arrangement between Shaik and Zuma.
After further cross-examination, Singh conceded that her information about Nkobi’s projects was secondhand, and that she had attended only one meeting in Mauritius where a project was discussed.
She also admitted that her other information was based on what she heard when she “had to walk in” on meetings to bring Shaik documents.
Van Zyl said Singh had tried to create the impression that Shaik “always used the names of Jacob Zuma and other ministers” when she had, in fact, heard it in only one meeting.
Singh said she also heard him say that on the telephone. She said she did not make any notes after overhearing the phone conversations between Shaik and his brother Chippy and Zuma, and that she did not tell anybody about it.
She confirmed to the court that she had recalled this only when she was interviewed by the Scorpions in July 2001.
Singh also testified that in November 2000 she had accompanied Shaik to the meeting in Mauritius with Alain Thetard and another man, both from arms dealer Thomson.
She said Shaik had taken her in keeping with his promise that, having been promoted from receptionist to personal assistant, she would play a greater role in the company. He had, however, warned her that she would need to be at his “beck and call” and had explained to her that was what his relationship with various “ministers” was.
“He said 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 what they want.”
At the Mauritius meeting, she said, Thetard had initially seemed surprised that she had been brought by Shaik, but Shaik explained that she was present to minute the meeting.
Later on Shaik, pulling out a sheaf of newspaper cuttings about the arms deal investigations then in progress, had said that the men needed to discuss “damage control”.
Singh said that Shaik had told the meeting that if the Heath Special Investigating Unit went ahead – as was being mooted then by the government – 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 she had minuted this but, because the person had “an African name”, she 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 the meeting. It then carried on for about 45 minutes and she, now sitting away from the men, occasionally heard raised voices emanating from it.
She said she could no longer remember the name of the man to whom Shaik had referred.
Singh conceded that payment of a number of Zuma’s accounts by Nkobi Holdings, the control at Nkobi of his bank accounts, and the fact that there existed files in which his financial affairs were kept, had not been a secret at Nkobi.
Singh’s evidence was to continue today.
With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin, Estelle Ellis and The Star.