Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2004-10-18 Reporter: Ben Maclennan Reporter: Wendy Jasson da Costa Reporter: Sapa

Shaik Sought Arms Deal Damage Control - Singh




Date 2004-10-18


Ben Maclennan,
Wendy Jasson da Costa, Sapa

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Week two in Schabir Shaik's fraud and corruption trial resumed on Monday with an account of his participation in a secret "damage control" meeting in Mauritius as investigations into government's controversial arms deal intensified.

This was evidence from his former personal assistant Bianca Singh, who was left off the state's official witness list to protect her identity until the last minute and who delivered her testimony under the watchful eye of two Scorpions bodyguards.

Singh told the court that her relationship with Shaik and his Nkobi Holdings ended abruptly after a "personal incident" with him in his bungalow at the luxury Mauritian La Pirogue resort.

Singh delivered most of her evidence with her eyes fixed on the far wall of the courtroom, glancing occasionally at prosecutor Billy Downer or judge Hillary Squires, but never looking at Shaik.

She told the court that in November 2000 she had accompanied Shaik to the Indian Ocean Island to take notes at a meeting with Alain Thetard, a director of Thint, a subsidiary of arms company Thomson CSF.

She saw it as a way to enhance her career and although Shaik had given her explicit instructions not to tell anyone in the office about it, she did tell some relatives and close colleagues.

Singh said Shaik stressed that she had to take with her a file of newspaper stories she had started compiling about the arms deal.

At the meeting with Thetard and another person whose name she could not remember they discussed the foreign exchange problems of Prodiba, the driver's licence card project in which Nkobi and the other company was involved.

"After that Mr Shaik said they needed to discuss damage control with regard to newspaper articles on the arms deal," she said.

Shaik asked Thetard if he was up to date with developments on the arms deal and, when the Frenchman said he was not, handed him the cuttings file.

"Shaik said if the Heath Investigating Unit continues we are going to be under an amount of pressure and if a certain ANC member - I can't remember his name - were to open his mouth we would be in real trouble."

The unit, headed by retired judge Willem Heath, had been given a dossier of allegations by politician Patricia de Lille and wanted President Thabo Mbeki to proclaim an investigation into the deal.

Heath was subsequently left out of an investigation by the National Director of Public Prosecutions, the Auditor General and the Public Protector.

At that point Shaik looked at her and said, "I hope you're not minuting all this".

She stopped writing.

It was clear the other two people were uncomfortable with her presence. "Mr Shaik asked me to leave the room and I did so."

Later Singh, a married mother, went to Shaik's bungalow to hand over some documents and an "incident" took place.

However when prosecutor Billy Downer asked her to describe it briefly Shaik's advocate Francois Van Zyl objected, saying it was irrelevant to the charges against Shaik.

"I don't wish to pursue the detail; it was an incident of a personal nature," Downer said.

"That is correct," Singh said.

Singh said she left the next day on the first available flight home and she left the folder containing the minutes at the resort's reception desk and asked that they be given to Shaik.

She never spoke to Shaik again and never returned to Nkobi Holdings.

One of Shaik's brothers phoned to ask if she was "okay". Shaik's lawyer Anand Moodley phoned to say a contract would be drawn up between Singh, Shaik and Kobifin, an Nkobi subsidiary, so that she could be paid for her services.

Moodley also told her Shaik insisted on a confidentiality clause because she knew too much about his relationship with Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

Downer also took her page by page through her Nkobi office diary for the year 2000 which she handed to the Scorpions a week ago, and records of meetings between Shaik and Thetard, and Shaik and Zuma.

She said she had forgotten about the diary and had stumbled upon it when she was going through boxes at her home looking for memorabilia of school friends.

She also told the court that she once overheard Shaik asking Zuma for help in securing a slice of the arms deal.

She said 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 also recalled an incident in which Shaik asked her to take R500 from the office petty cash and R200 from his own pocket in an envelope to Zuma at Durban airport.

Singh said Shaik once 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 worked.

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

Throughout the day's testimony Shaik moved about in his seat, at times shaking his head in disagreement or using neon pink and green markers to highlight the notes he had made.

At times he held his Muslim prayer beads.

With acknowledgements to Ben Maclennan, Wendy Jasson da Costa, Sapa and Independent Online.