Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2006-11-06 Reporter: Sapa Reporter: Reuters

Shaik Judgement may Cost Zuma Dearly



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The Supreme Court of Appeal dented former deputy president Jacob Zuma's chances of becoming the next president on Monday when it confirmed corruption convictions against a former financial adviser.

The top court for criminal cases said Schabir Shaik was "correctly convicted" on all three counts against him. The ruling is likely to increase the possibility that Zuma could face new charges after an earlier graft case against him was dismissed. Such a step by prosecutors could hobble his presidential hopes.

"We find a wealth of evidence to show that the friendship [between Shaik and Zuma], which we accept exists, was persistently and aggressively exploited by Mr Shaik for his own and his group's advantage," said the court's ruling, read out by Judge President Craig Howie.

"The only reasonable inference is that the payments were corruptly made to influence Mr Zuma to act in conflict with his constitutional duties ... all the appeals are dismissed."

The court also upheld Shaik's sentence of 15 years in jail.

Legal experts said Shaik's lawyers could try to appeal to the Constitutional Court -- the highest in the land -- but there might not be sufficient constitutional grounds for this.

Shaik heard the news of the failure of his appeal with a heavy heart, Independent Online reported. "I can't believe it," he said. "Boom, boom, boom, one, two, three, they didn't uphold anything. All the lawyers were wrong about what was going to happen."

Shaik had been scheduled to take part in a news conference after the ruling, but pulled out at the last minute. "He would rather spend this time gathering his thoughts," his brother Mo Shaik told reporters.

Shaik was convicted of corruption and graft last year by a judge who said he had a "generally corrupt" relationship with Zuma, long seen as the front-runner to succeed Thabo Mbeki when he finishes his second and final term as president in 2009.

Deep rifts Zuma was later dismissed as deputy president by Mbeki, opening some of the deepest rifts in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) since it guided South Africa from apartheid to democracy in 1994.

Zuma, a widely popular politician with broad grassroots support, has denied wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a political conspiracy designed to thwart his presidential hopes.

Prosecutors charged Zuma himself with corruption, but that case was tossed out of court in September in what was seen as a humiliating setback for the state.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi said new charges could be laid against Zuma. "One of the reasons the state was not ready to proceed [in September] was this very matter that was finalised today," he said.

Zuma was reportedly out of the country on Monday.

The uncertainty over Zuma -- who remains deputy president of the ANC and thus a de facto candidate for party leadership at an ANC congress next year -- has kept markets jittery.

Some analysts highlight Zuma's support from ANC left-wingers and allies unhappy with Mbeki's market-oriented policies. The Johannesburg Top-40 index of blue-chip stocks firmed slightly after the verdict while the rand, which dealers had said might have been hit by a decision to uphold the appeal, was little changed.

Monday's judgement gives the NPA the moral high ground to continue with its case against Zuma, said United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa on Monday. "This doesn't augur well for Mr Zuma," he said.

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille -- who, like Holomisa, has placed a focus in Parliament on South Africa's controversial arms deal -- said she believes the judgment opens the door to a jail term for Zuma.

The ruling "surely" has serious implications for Zuma's political future. "It is hard to see how the NPA can fail to pursue their case against him [Zuma] now," said Democratic Alliance justice spokesperson Sheila Camerer. "Today's [Monday] verdict gives Zuma a true opportunity to 'have his day in court' and it gives South Africa a new opportunity to know the full truth about the arms deal and other allegedly corrupt activities involving Zuma."

The African National Congress Youth League said in a statement that no inference must be drawn from the rejection of Shaik's appeal, as Monday's judgement was with respect to Shaik, whose evidence was tested in a court of law.

Shaik's failed appeal does not mean there is a stronger case against Zuma or that he must be charged for corruption, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said.

"Zuma and Shaik are not the same person and each has a right to be tried completely independently," said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven. "One person cannot be convicted in absentia on the basis of evidence against someone else. If there was any evidence against Jacob Zuma, then he should have been charged and tried separately."

Craven said the trade union calls for Zuma to be treated like any other innocent citizen, for the immediate reinstatement of Zuma to the position of the deputy president of the country, and for a review of the activities and role of the NPA and other state agencies, among others.

'No criticism' of NPA Yunis Shaik, brother of Schabir, said the Shaik family's impression of the NPA is that it is a social institution and is executing its mandate to the best of its ability. "We have no criticism of that."

However, the family had earlier criticised the NPA because it had "abused" the process, for example with its relationship with the Sunday Times newspaper and leaking of information.

But Yunis said on Monday he is now under the impression that the NPA has stopped playing "media stars" and is executing its constitutional mandate.

Asked about recent contact between Schabir and Zuma, Mo Shaik said the family has been in contact with Zuma, who attended the "last Eid" lunch as a guest of the family.

Responding to a question on the extent of support the family has received, Mo said: "This extends from petrol attendants to high-ranking ministers," but declined to name any ministers who had offered support.

Yunis, responding to another question, replied: "If you give any money to your friend when he is in debt, then you are seen as seeking political patronage."

The dismissal of Schabir's appeal against corruption and fraud convictions was a "devastating judgement on all three counts", Mo said. This explained Schabir's absence from a media conference he was scheduled to address, Mo told reporters in Cape Town.

He said it was a matter of hours before Schabir was supposed to report to the authorities and his brother was preparing for this. He was "gathering his thoughts" for what lay ahead.

The court's decision was an "unfortunate judgement" but the Shaik family have "not given up hope".

Organisers of the media conference earlier said Schabir had declined to take part as planned, opting to send his brothers, Mo and Yunis, instead.

Asked about the possibility of an appeal to the Constitutional Court, Yunis said the brothers were still studying the judgement and had not yet had time to read it completely. Therefore he was not yet able to draw any conclusion on whether there were grounds to appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Yunis said Monday's judgement should be respected. "We should defer and pay deference to the judgement," he said, adding that Schabir had received the news "calmly and with detachment".

Mo said the brothers did not expect the judgement to go the way it had, because Schabir still maintains that his relationship with Zuma was "founded on altruism". Schabir was taken aback but will deal with the matter with dignity, Mo said.

He said that "Schabir does not believe that he has done anything wrong in his relationship with Jacob Zuma". He said Zuma had been in debt and Schabir had acted out of "compassion".

Yunis said if the judgement means imprisonment for his brother, then "Schabir is ready to embrace that".

Asked about the possibility of a bail application, he replied that the lawyers were in consultation and would apply their minds to that.

Asked if Schabir had been in contact with his wife and young son, Mo said that "lots of plans have been put in place but those are private".

Quick facts about Schabir Shaik

Member of wealthy and influential Indian family in Durban with strong ties to the ruling African National Congress.

Forged long-time friendship with Zuma during anti-apartheid struggle, becoming his financial adviser after multiracial democracy was established in 1994.

Established company that entered bids to supply patrol ships for South Africa as well as a series of other projects, including an upgrade of Durban International Airport and major roadworks.

Brought to trial in October 2004 on two charges of corruption and one of fraud. Judge Hilary Squires entered guilty verdicts on all three counts in May 2005, and also found Shaik had a "generally corrupt" relationship with Zuma.

Sentenced to an effective 15 years in prison, Shaik turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which on Monday confirmed his conviction on all three counts. He is expected to report to prison within the next several days.

With acknowledgement to Mail & Guardian Online reporter, Reuters, Sapa and Mail & Guardian.