Arms Man Slams Heath's Decision to Advise Zuma
The Natal Witness
Richard Young calls for former judge's withdrawal from case
Arms contractor Richard Young, who is suing the government for nearly R150 million, has slammed as "unethical" the announcement by former head of the Special Investigation Unit Judge Willem Heath that he will act as legal adviser to former deputy president Jacob Zuma in his corruption trial.
Young, whose court case is expected to start early next year, has called for Heath's withdrawal from advising Zuma, saying he has personally confided in Heath and his unit.
Young said yesterday that he and his legal team could well have called Heath as a witness in his trial and that any involvement with anyone connected to Schabir Shaik, Chippy Shaik, Zuma and French arms company Thales (to whom Young lost the contract) is a huge conflict of interest.
Young's trial, which will go to the heart of South Africa's controversial multi-billion rand arms deal, is expected to be as spectacular and high-profile as the Schabir Shaik case. Young, who has relentlessly pursued justice in his own case, has spent more than R5 million in legal and para-legal fees. He is suing the government for damages after he lost a bid to supply information management systems for the South African Navy's new corvettes.
Earlier this year, the Pretoria High Court ruled against the legal exceptions raised by the Department of Defence, Armscor and African Defence Systems (the local subsidiary of the French-owned company that won the contract which Young is disputing) and gave the go-ahead for Young to contest the deal.
Earlier this month Heath, who now runs a consulting company, Heath Executive Consultants, issued a press statement in which he defended Zuma. He claimed that it was unfair and possibly prejudicial that Zuma was not prosecuted with Shaik.
Heath has, for a long time, been on a retainer by controversial mining millionaire Brett Kebble - a strong Zuma supporter.
This week, Heath met with Zuma and announced he will act as the former deputy president's legal advisor. He said he will not be part of the team representing Zuma in court.
In 2000, Heath, as the head of the Special Investigating Unit, was tasked with investigating alleged corruption in the government's arms procurement programme. He was later excluded from a probe involving several agencies after the Constitutional Court used the argument of separation of powers to rule that a judge could not head the unit.
Heath resigned as a judge and started his consultancy.
Heath yesterday denied a conflict of interest, saying that Young had never consulted the Special Investigations Unit and had never suggested he would call him as a witness.
Responding, Young said that this was not true and that consultation had taken place. "On advice, I first contacted the senior investigator of the SIU during May 2000. I then gave them a very detailed briefing some weeks later, as well as five lever-arch files full of evidence relating to Thomson-CSF, ADS and Chippy Shaik.
"In November 2000, I met with all the investigators who were investigating the combat suite, including some from the SIU, and gave them another detailed briefing, including original colour copies of the organograms, drawn by myself with input from a consultant. The multifarious links on the organograms were explained in detail.
"These very same organograms were held up just two months later by President Thabo Mbeki in his televised national address Just where did Heath get them? from his investigators who got them from me."
Young said he had also personally consulted with Heath in August 2001, after Heath formed his consultancy.
"Through no fault of my own, the pleadings have only closed in my case during the last few weeks and we are still to strategise the details of the trial itself. We could well have called Heath as a witness," Young said.
With acknowledgement to Dries Liebenberg, Noloyiso Mchunu and The Natal Witness.