Shaik, Rattle and Roil : The Second Week
Someone writing about the Schabir Shaik trial one day in the future will have a tough time choosing a title for the chapter covering this last week, the second week of proceedings. Should he or she call it "Sensational Secretaries' Week", "The Smoking Gun (Provisional Only)", "Bribes and Babes", "The Encrypted French Fax Up", or simply "The Mother of All Audits"?
All of these would fit an incident-filled week in the Duran high court where Shaik, always impeccably dressed but sometimes clearly tense, has pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption and fraud.
Also in the dock in court A, despite the presiding judge's warning that only Shaik and his companies are on trial, is Jacob Zuma, the deputy president, albeit by proxy, via the media and before the nation rather than a judge.
This week everyone's attention shifted to the state's second witness in the trail : Bianca Singh, formerly a receptionist at Nkobi Holdings, Shaik's company, and later Shaik's personal assistant.
The nub of Singh's evidence was that she had heard a phone conversation between Shaik and Chippy, his brother, then head of arms procurement for the defence force. Immediately after assuring Chippy that everything would be okay, Shaik had dialled a number and said, "Hello, my brother, hello JZ [Jacob Zuma, Singh later said]. Chippy's under pressure, we need help to land this deal," which, Singh said, was the arms deal.
Additionally, Singh told of a November 2000 meeting in Mauritius with Thomson-CSF, the French arms dealer and manufacturer, attended by Shaik, herself, Alain Thetard, a Thomson-CSF director, and another person, apparently one Yann de Jomaron. Nkobi Holdings and Thomson-CSF were in a partnership, also including African Defence Systems, which was part of the consortium (the German Frigate Consortium) that on November 18 1998 had been announced by the cabinet as the preferred bidder for the corvettes.
Apparently Shaik, having fished out a file of some newspaper clippings about arms deal investigations, said : "We have to discuss damage control. If the (Judge Willem) Heath investigation goes ahead, we will be under a lot of pressure and if a certain ANC member opens his mouth, we would be in big trouble."
But what clearly caught the courts attention as much as the serious allegations were Singh's brief descriptions of life with Shaik. Besides not always being sweet tempered, Shaik had a certain way with words.
"He told me," Singh explained, "that I would as his PA, always have to be at his beck and call, like he was to various ministers. He said that he has to carry a jar of Vaseline because he gets fucked all the time, but [he said] that's okay because he gets what he wants and they get what they want."
Singh said the trip to Mauritius ended, due to "an incident of a personal nature" with her fleeing Shaik's bungalow at La Pirogue resort, leaving the island a day early, and never speaking to him again.
Unfortunately for the sensationalist media, Squires agreed with Francois van Zyl SC, for Shaik, and Billy Downer SC, the chief prosecutor, that it was unnecessary for Singh to divulge the details of the incident.
Singh conceded during cross examination that she might have been confuse about certain dates and might have generalised when she claimed that Shaik told all prospective partners about his excellent political connections. But overall she stuck to her version of events.
The next witness, Sue Delique, a former secretary of Thetard, also had no trouble in winning attention. For she produced what might be the proverbial "smoking gun", at least as far as count three against Shaik (soliciting a bribe for Zuma) is concerned.
This was the infamous encrypted fax of March 17 2000, from Thetard in Pretoria to colleague De Jomaron in Paris. Thetard allegedly wrote that he had finally met with Zuma who had confirmed a request allegedly made earlier by Shaik : that, in exchange for R500 000 a year for two years, Zuma would protect Thomson-CSF against investigations and would support the company in future.
Squires warned the media that Delique's evidence was only provisionally accepted by the court - that there would be further legal argument later concerning its "admissibility" - since she was not the author of the fax and had come by it in an unusual way.
Delique said that when she handed in her resignation to Thetard after three months, she had "feared for her safety". Consequently, she had grabbed her handbag and the nearest bunch of papers and fled.
In those papers was a copy of the fax Thetard had handwritten and she had typed. She had handed this to the Scorpions in 2001 after telling the company's auditors that Thetard was guilty, among other things, of offering politicians bribes.
Then in September this year, three-and-a-half years later, Delique said, having been contacted by the Scorpions about Shaik's forthcoming trial, she discovered that she had also, on fleeing the Thomson-CSF office, taken a computer disk as well. And "lo and behold" as Van Zyl put it, there was a copy of the fax on the disk. She had saved it to that disk when she typed it.
Marion Marais, a third unhappy secretary and Delique's predecessor, told the court on Wednesday afternoon that Thetard was volatile, arrogant and once he could not understand why South Africans made such a fuss about bribes when it was "normal practice" in France.
On Thursday, Johan van der Walt, the author of the KPMG audit report, started his evidence which, it appears from the indictment, is the basis of most of the state's case.
He said that his team had found payments to or on behalf of Zuma from Shaik and the Nkobi Group totalling R1,2 million and yet the group was always in difficult financial straits, as was Zuma. He also said that from a certain document it was clear that Shaik believed he could influence tender procedures.
Van der Walt has 260 pages plus an addendum through which to work. But Friday, when the court adjourned, he had only reached page 84. For those interested in the more sensationalist aspects of the Shaik trial, the coming week is likely to provide slim pickings.
With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin and the Sunday Independent.