Publication: Cape Times Issued: Date: 2004-10-18 Reporter: Estelle Ellis

Sparks Could Fly as Former Shaik Employee Testifies



Cape Times

Date 2004-10-18


Estelle Ellis

Web Link


Durban - Sparks are expected to fly today when a former employee of Durban businessman Schabir Shaik's Nkobi Holdings gives evidence in his fraud and corruption trial.

The witness's evidence follows that of Professor Themba Sono, who last week told the court what happened behind closed doors at Nkobi Holdings.

Shaik pleaded not guilty last week to two charges of corruption and another of fraud. The state firstly alleges that Shaik made R1.2 million in payments to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, in exchange for Zuma's loyalty to Nkobi Holdings and the use of his name.

This, the leader of the prosecution, Billy Downer SC, said in his opening remarks, would be a pivotal part of the "back door" process followed to obtain lucrative contracts. He added that the payments made no business sense as Nkobi was often in a "cash-starved" position.

Secondly, the state alleges Shaik was involved in the fraudulent "writing-off" of amounts "loaned" to Zuma in Nkobi's books. The other corruption charge against Shaik relates to an allegation by the state that he was involved in procuring a R1m bribe for Zuma from French arms company Thint.

In his plea explanation, Shaik admitted the bulk of the payments, but said it was an effort to help a close friend. He admitted the writing-off of some of the Zuma loans, but said this was done in error and later rectified. He denied attempts to solicit a bribe for Zuma.

The admissions made by Shaik, Downer said, would shorten proceedings considerably. Or to quote Judge Hilary Squires: "It is no longer a question of what was paid but more one of why it was paid".

Shaik's trial got under way on Wednesday last week.

Sono, the state's first witness, testified that Shaik often mentioned the name of Zuma to prospective corporate partners. He confirmed that Nkobi was often in financial trouble, but did not know about the payments to Zuma. In the three reasons mentioned for his resignation from the Nkobi board, Sono said he was unhappy with seeing Nkobi money going somewhere else; the constant name-dropping by Shaik (especially the names of Zuma and former transport minister Mac Maharaj) made him feel like a con artist; he took exception to the boorish and autocratic manner in which he was treated by Shaik; and he lent R75 000 to Nkobi Holdings to pay salaries in December 1996 and was having trouble recovering the money from Shaik.

His evidence in chief supported state allegations about the "back door" process followed during the tender process for government contracts. He explained that Shaik contributed "goodwill" to partnerships bidding for contracts.

"They wanted a political force that could deliver," he said of the companies with which Shaik and Nkobi Holdings sought to go into joint ventures.

But in cross-examination by advocate Francois van Zyl SC for Shaik, Sono conceded that Shaik mentioned the firm's political connectivity to demonstrate that Nkobi would be a suitable black economic empowerment (BEE) partner.

But Sono persisted that political connectivity and BEE was not the same thing, saying: "Actually, it (political connectivity) could be a form of corruption."

Sono painted a picture of Shaik as a businessman with vision.

He said Shaik was a "political entrepeneur" who had studied a number of black empowerment models to create a South African model of BEE.

"Did he understand how black economic empowerment would operate in practice?" he was asked by Van Zyl. "Of course he did," Sono said.

Today's witness and the forensic auditors, among others, are expected to add the colour, the shade and the detail of what happened behind the corporate doors of Nkobi Holdings in 1996.

With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and the Cape Times.