Publication: Pretoria News Issued: Date: 2004-10-18 Reporter: Estelle Ellis

Sparks Set to Fly as Shaik Trial Resumes



Pretoria News

Date 2004-10-18


Estelle Ellis

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Sparks are expected to fly on Monday as a former employee of Durban businessman Schabir Shaik's Nkobi Holdings is to give evidence in the fraud and corruption trial against him.

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

Shaik has pleaded not guilty to two charges of corruption and one 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 would be a pivotal part of the "backdoor" process followed to obtain lucrative contracts. The payments made no business sense as Nkobi was often in a "cash-starved" position, he said.

The State also alleges that Shaik was involved in the fraudulent "writing-off" of amounts "loaned" to Zuma in Nkobi's books.

The other charge of corruption against Shaik relates to an allegation by the State that Shaik was involved in procuring a R1-million 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 further 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.

As the witness list diminished accordingly, witnesses said it is now a standing joke among that they have been divided into an "A-team" and a "reserve team".

Shaik's trial got under way last Wednesday, after the first two days of the week was taken up by an unsuccessful application by to broadcast proceedings.

Sono, the State's first witness, testified that Shaik often mentioned the name of Zuma to prospective corporate partners. He confirmed the State's allegation 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 board of Nkobi Holdings, 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.

He loaned 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 the allegations made by the State about the "backdoor" process followed during the tender process for government 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, 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.

A first witness is of crucial importance to a party's case. For one, it must be someone with nerves of steel - something which Sono, who seemed quite comfortable through the whole ordeal obviously had.

To some extent it became clear in the course of the well-spoken Sono's evidence that he was called to paint the broad picture to the court of what happened behind the corporate doors of Nkobi holdings during 1996.

Today's witness and the forensic auditors are expected to add the colour, the shade and the detail.

It is clear that Judge Squires plan to run his court by the book. Objections against evidence that went wider than the case stated by the prosecution were upheld, and "name-dropping" that went outside the allegations made by the State were summarily stopped.

With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis and the Pretoria News.