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

'Bribery Fuss Puzzled French Businessman'



The Mercury

Date 2004-10-21


Estelle Ellis

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The man said to be at the centre of allegedly bribing Deputy President Jacob Zuma told his secretary 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 set its focus on Wednesday. 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 nobody seems to have much faith that the prosecution will succeed in getting him into the witness box. He is, however, an integral part of the conspiracy which, the state claims, existed to bribe Zuma by paying him two installments of R500 000.

Zuma's financial adviser and friend Schabir Shaik is on trial for, among other things, allegedly soliciting this bribe.

He has also been charged with two counts of corruption and another of fraud. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

In the absence of Thetard, who was described as volatile and arrogant by one of his secretaries, the state chose to call two of his former employees and handed in some of his letters, notes and a document setting out the terms of the alleged Zuma bribe.

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

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

Marais was the third secretary to give evidence in the trial, after Delique and Shaik's former secretary Bianca Singh.

Marais said on Wednesday Thetard's volatile and arrogant nature was the main reason for her resignation.

"He was incredibly difficult to work for." She said when she went to resign, she asked a driver to stay outside the office because she "was nervous".

Marais added that Thetard was a secretive man and would lock documents in his office.

She said Thetard had instructed her that his draft documents must either be filed or shredded.

"He always instructed me not to throw things in the dustbin but to shred them. I got the impression that he was very secretive. 'Don't file this one,' he would say of a document. 'I want it back.'

Marais told the court that on the day that MP Patricia de Lille talked in parliament about her suspicions about the arms deal, a man from another French company in Pretoria rushed into her office.

"He wanted to see Mr Thetard urgently. He was definitely agitated. 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 looked at it and said: 'Why does this make such headlines in South Africa? It would be normal practice in France'," Marais said.

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

She said Thetard often sought the audience of influential people, a number of whom were referred to by code names. 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 bribe 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, for Shaik, Delique said Thetard had kept a copy of the much-discussed document, but the handwritten copy he had given her had been on her desk.

Van Zyl said that when the Scorpions raided the offices of Thint, they did not find other copies of the fax - they only had the handwritten document given to them 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?" Van Zyl asked Delique.

"I would say he did," she replied.

The trial continues on Thursday.

With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and The Mecury.