Publication: The Natal Witness Issued: Date: 2004-10-21 Reporter: Nivashni Nair

Thetard 'Thought Arms Deal Bribe was Acceptable'



The Natal Witness

Date 2004-10-21


Nivashni Nair

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Thomson-CSF executive director Alain Thetard did not understand why the irregularities in the multi-billion rand arms deal were making headlines in South Africa, as bribing government officials is "common" in France.

The fourth state witness in the Schabir Shaik fraud and corruption trial, Thetard's former secretary, Marian Marais, told the Durban High Court that when Thetard read articles on the investigation, he commented that "there was such a fuss about it in South Africa, yet it was a normal practice in France".

Judge Hillary Squires initially felt that Marais's hearsay evidence was not relevant, but allowed it when prosecutor Anton Steinberg said the state intends to prove that Thomson-CSF, which was allegedly party to a promised bribe to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, "thought it acceptable".

Shaik's trial centres around alleged corrupt and fraudulent financial transactions between Shaik and Zuma. The state alleges that Zuma assisted Thomson-CSF and Shaik's company Nkobi Holdings to win the tender for weapons suites for naval corvettes for South Africa and was promised a bribe in return.

Although Squires criticised the state for leading evidence on Thetard's attempts to befriend prominent South Africans, he allowed it for a brief period until Marais told the court that Thetard referred to important people he had met by code names such as "Mr Tailor", who apparently makes Nelson Mandela's shirts.

Squires said the evidence was "getting beyond what this trial is about".

"This is not beyond the limits of irrelevance, Mr Steinberg, but it is very close to that. Thomson-CSF is not an accused any more," he said.

Thomson-CSF was accused number 11, but charges were dropped after an agreement between Thetard and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Marais, who was flown in from Johannesburg to testify yesterday, told the court Thetard was very excited about meeting Zuma and "always said that he hoped through Mr Shaik, he would get an introduction".

"He was very excited at the prospect. At one stage he rubbed his hands together with glee, saying 'maybe this time, I will meet him'," Marais said.

She said she got the impression that Thetard was "irritated" about giving money to Shaik and had sarcastically said "I have already given so many payments and now Shaik is asking for more".

Shaik's advocate Francois van Zyl rejected Marais's evidence, saying that the reference to payments was possibly linked to the dispute over company shares.

Apparently, Thomson-CSF had bought shares in Nkobi Holdings for R500 000 but there was a "long dispute over the value of shares".

During her cross-examination, Marais was asked to explain the "company policy" on saving confidential letters.

This evidence related to the letter that was provisionally handed to the court on Tuesday. The letter details the alleged bribe agreement and was handed to the court during the testimony of Susan Delique, also a former Thetard secretary.

Delique testified she typed the letter written by Thetard and faxed it to the head office in Paris. She said the letter was among papers she grabbed when she quit in a hurry after an argument with Thetard.

She later found a copy of the letter with several other personal documents and handed it to the Scorpions. After that meeting, she found a computer disk with a copy of the letter on it.

Delique was grilled on the "coincidental" way she had the letter in her possession, despite company policy that letters should not be saved to computer hard drives but on stiffy disks that had to be locked in the company safe.

Marais confirmed the policy, which she said was a "very strict instruction" from Thetard.

Squires on Wednesday emphasised that the letter was only provisionally admitted and is "not evidence of the truth".

The next state witness to take the stand is Johan van der Walt, whose testimony is based on the KPMG forensic investigation.

The court adjourned early on Wednesday for Van Zyl and the prosecution to discuss the admissibility of certain aspects of the KPMG report.

Squires made it clear that no time should be wasted and that they "better be ready by 10 am".

With acknowledgements to Nivashni Nair and The Natal Witness.