Spotlight Swings to Jacob Zuma
Mail and Guardian
The devastating judgement in the Schabir Shaik corruption case has forced the spotlight directly on to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who has effectively been found guilty of corruption, though he was not an accused.
The judgement is certain to have immense political repercussions, whether or not Zuma is charged, and is set to dominate the African National Congress’s national general council meeting later this month.
The guilty verdict on all charges against Shaik was no surprise, but Judge Hillary Squires was expected to give Zuma the benefit of some doubt. Instead the judgement is a striking condemnation of the deputy president, finding he must have known and understood the terms of the R500 000 bribe he was offered by the French arms company Thomson CSF.
The terms of the bribe agreement were set out in the notorious encrypted fax in which Thomson executive Alain Thetard reported the outcome of a meeting with Zuma and Shaik. According to the fax, which Judge Squires found to accurately reflect the meeting, Zuma confirmed a request for R500 000 a year in return for his protection and support.
Shaik’s alternative plea on this charge — that he could have tricked Zuma into making the encoded confirmation of the bribe request — was rejected by the judge, who ruled that Shaik would not have taken the risk of being exposed. On the contrary, he was present to ensure Zuma understood the terms of the deal.
“It is clear that all the parties knew what was discussed and concluded,” the judge found. He also found that payments for Zuma’s benefit made by Shaik, totalling more than
R1,2-million, had created a generally corrupt relationship. Judge Squires ruled that Zuma had intervened on behalf of Shaik’s business interests on at least four occasions.
The judgement significantly raises the likelihood that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) may reconsider its decision not to charge Zuma, although there are significant legal obstacles to such a move.
The Scorpions are known to have been hoping that the judge would make a recommendation*1 on Zuma. He did not do this, but the judgement speaks for itself. NPA spokesman Makhosini Nkosi welcomed the verdict, but would not be drawn on whether charges against Zuma would follow. National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli would “study the judgement and make pronouncements where necessary”.
Nkosi said the verdict vindicated the decision to prosecute Shaik and thanked the clearly elated prosecuting and investigation team. Shaik’s bail has, by agreement, been extended, but increased to R100 000.
Among the obstacles to a Zuma prosecution is the problem of getting the mass of documents admitted as evidence against Shaik similarly admitted against Zuma.
Most of the Shaik documents were formally hearsay, in that they were not presented by their authors. But they were automatically admissible against Shaik because they pertained to a company he directed. The same is not true for Zuma.
Another problem relates to calling the same set of witnesses to repeat evidence they have already given, which always entails risk of contradictions.
Judge Squires accepted as true an account by Shaik’s secretary, Bianca Singh, of a cellphone conversation between Shaik and his brother Chippy Shaik, followed by a call from Schabir Shaik to Zuma. Singh said Chippy Shaik, then chief of defence acquisition, had disclosed some problem with “landing a deal” and Schabir Shaik had immediately contacted Zuma to resolve the difficulty.
“The only help he [Zuma] could give to landing a deal would be the influence and weight of his political office,” the judge said. He added that the evidence clearly showed Zuma’s preparedness to intervene to protect Shaik’s business interests.
The judge was also scathing about the various loan documents Zuma had signed. “We thought that these documents were not what they purported to be but were probably drawn up when [Zuma’s] benefits had to be declared.”
Even after Zuma was appointed deputy president and received a gross remuneration of R850 year, Shaik continued to make these payments “to allow Zuma to live at an even higher standard of material comfort and to continue the sense of obligation”.
The judgement has strengthened the R149-million claim against the Department of Defence by contractor Richard Young, who claims his company was unfairly prejudiced by Thompsons influence on the selection process.
The finding that Thomson did pay a bribe in relation to the arms deal — though after the contracts were signed — raises the spectre of fresh legal challenges to the defence acquisition programme.
With acknowledgements to Sam Sole and the Mail & Guardian.*1 The wily old Squires was far too mindful of the political downside of this.
The NPA must do its job - wityhout fear, favour or prejuduce.
*2 No, no, no - the judgment very clearly made findings into the exploitation by Thomson-CSF of the inside, parallel political process in being awarded the the contract. Chippy Shaik got involved in protecting Thomson-CSF and ADS from competition long before the contracts were awarded.
Furthermore, during the trial there was clear evidence that there was direct intervention from the highest levels of government in the acquisition process, even before the preferred bidders were announced in November 1998, let alone contracts signed in December 1999.
Is this explicable? If so, who is going to sit in the witness box during Part Four to so explain?
It will make the Shaik trial look like an Enid Blighton best seller in the children's department.