Shaik PA Tells of Call to Zuma for Help
Ben Maclennan, Wendy Jasson da Costa
(Please note expletive in second last paragraph.)
Schabir Shaik's former personal assistant told the Durban High Court on Monday of a phone call in which Shaik asked Deputy President Jacob Zuma for help securing a slice of the arms deal.
Bianca Singh said that at one point late in 1998* she was in Shaik's office when his cellphone rang. She gathered that the caller was his brother Chippy, then head of acquisitions in the Department of Defence and the man directing the SA National Defence Force's multi-billion rand arms procurement programme.
There was a brief conversation and Shaik told Chippy not to worry.
After ending the call Shaik dialled a new number and said: "Hello my brother, hello JZ".
Singh said Shaik always referred to Zuma as "JZ", he said.
"He said 'Chippy's under pressure and we really need your help to land this deal'," Singh said.
At the time Zuma was kwaZulu-Natal MEC for economic affairs and tourism, and deputy president of the African National Congress.
Singh said Shaik was definitely referring to the arms deal because it was the only project he referred to as a "deal".
She said Shaik had helped Zuma to open an Absa account, which was managed through the computers of Shaik's Nkobi group.
She said money was transferred from an Nkobi subsidiary, Kobifin, and from Shaik's personal account, to Zuma.
This included payments for school and university fees for Zuma's children.
Nkobi was also paying the rent for a Durban flat Zuma lived in for a time when he was still an MEC.
She recalled an occasion when Shaik was in a meeting and she answered his cellphone to find Zuma calling.
She called Shaik out of the meeting and he spoke to Zuma.
Shaik then asked her how much money she had in petty cash.
"I had R500. I gave Mr Shaik the R500 and he took out another R200 from his pocket. He asked (for) me an envelope, placed the money into the envelope, then asked me to call Mr Isaacs [the Nkobi group accountant]. He then told me I need to go with Mr Isaacs to the airport and then... to take the envelope to the Deputy President [Zuma]."
When she arrived at the airport she met Zuma's bodyguards who showed her to a small office where Zuma was.
"He closed the door. He was happy to see me. I then handed him the envelope."
"Do you have any idea what that was all about?" asked prosecutor Billy Downer.
"No," said Singh.
Singh said Shaik used to buy his clothes from a Durban store named Casanova. Clothing was delivered at the Nkobi offices sometimes for Shaik, and sometimes for Zuma.
Shaik once remarked that Zuma "Wears very cheap suits," and after that Zuma began wearing clothes from Casanova, including expensive suits by Armani and Gucci.
She said Casanova sometimes complained about payment.
Asked by Downer if Shaik used to drop names in his business dealings, she said if a new contract was being negotiated, Shaik would assure his potential partners that going with Nkobi would be very good because it was a black economic empowerment company with the backing of "various ministers" and the deputy president.
Singh said however she did not think Nkobi qualified as a black empowerment company as it had only one African director who did not play a major role.
"I don't think it was, from my little knowledge that I know of from black empowerment. The right way is not just to put people on your letterhead... when these people are not actually adding benefit to your company or working there as such."
She said although Shaik highlighted Nkobi's black empowerment credentials in public, at times in the office he would say "oh, he's just tired of these black people".
She said she left Nkobi abruptly in March 1999.
She said Shaik had begun screaming at her in front of other people and using abusive language, and one day when he did this after being unable to locate a particular file, she typed out her resignation and left.
She said when she needed a job in February 2000 she came to an "understanding" with Shaik before rejoining Nkobi.
During this period she became aware of a probe by Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts into the arms deal.
She said Shaik was playing golf and phoned her because he was unable to get hold of his wife to ask her to videotape Chippy's televised appearance at the enquiry.
She contacted Shaik's wife and asked him the next day if his wife had managed to tape it.
"He said 'yes she did videotape it but they're focusing on the wrong person'," she said.
"When he phoned me to say he couldn't get his wife to do the videotaping I could sense he was worried from the tone of his voice.
"When I asked him the next day his tone was more relaxed **," she said.
One of the documents she saw when she first took up the job was a laminated black and white copy of the diagrams of the corvettes bought in the arms deal. The diagrams were kept in Shaik's office.
Nkobi, in partnership with French arms manufacturer Thomson eventually secured the tender for the "combat suite" for the corvettes.
Singh said Shaik once suggested she go on a project management course because he wanted her to manage a hotel project at Kosi Bay.
He told her she would need to be at his "beck and call" and went on to say that was how his relationship with various ministers was.
"He said he has to carry a jar of Vaseline because he gets f****d (sic - expletive partially deleted by VPO Editor) all the time but that's okay because he gets what he wants and they get what they want."
Asked who he had been referring to he said the various ministers.
With acknowledgement to Ben Maclennan, Wendy Jasson da Costa and Sapa.
* This was exactly at the time that Blohm+Voss GmbH, prime shipyard and leader of the GFC's bid, asked a British Aerospace-led consortium to provide a competing bid for the Command and Control Segment of the Corvette Combat Suite.
** Maybe after a call to a dear and needy friend ?