Publication: Mail and Guardian
Reporter: Serjeant at the Bar
The Crook, The Court and The Political Ambitions of Jacob
Mail and Guardian
Serjeant at the Bar
week, a man described by the trial judge as ambitious, far-sighted and brazen --
if not positively aggressive -- in pursuit of his financial interests found that
our legal system may grind slowly, but it sure grinds
finely. The Supreme Court of Appeal handed down a judgement that in its
fine attention to detail exposed Schabir Shaik, not only as a ruthless crook,
but also as the person who may have destroyed the political ambitions of Jacob
Politically, the two key charges were count one and count three. On
count one, Shaik was charged with contravening the Corruption Act by making
payments to or on behalf of Zuma, with the clear intention of influencing him to
perform duties to Shaik’s advantage.
The court noted that, during the
period with which the case was concerned, Zuma was the provincial minister for
economic affairs and tourism -- and subsequently the deputy president of the
republic. Constitutionally, an MEC and a Cabinet member (including the deputy
president) may not undertake paid work, act in a manner that conflates his
official responsibilities and private interests, or use his position to enrich
himself or another person.
Shaik made 238 payments for the benefit of
Zuma totalling R1,2-million from October 1995 to September 2002. The court held
that evidence from the books of the Shaik group of companies and relevant
witnesses revealed that Shaik could not conceivably have regarded any of these
payments as a consideration to Zuma.
Unsurprisingly, the court accepted
Judge Squires’s adverse assessment of Shaik as a witness. Jeremy Gauntlett SC,
on behalf of Shaik, had argued that the payments to Zuma were made out of
friendship or were loans. But the court held that there was considerable
evidence to show that this friendship was persistently and aggressively
exploited by Shaik for his own and his group’s business advantage.
court found that the most important illustration of Shaik’s
exploitation of Zuma concerned the South African National Defence Force arms
procurement programme, where Zuma’s efforts contributed to Shaik’s
acquisition of a material interest in a lucrative contract to supply armaments
for the navy’s new corvettes.
Count three involved the notorious
encrypted fax. Shaik was charged with corruption in that, in collaboration with
Zuma and Alain Thétard of French arms supplier Thomson- CSF, Thomson offered
Zuma R500 000 a year until a certain specified event. In return, Zuma would
protect Thomson from investigation of its role in the arms deal.
encrypted fax was the printed version of a handwritten draft letter compiled by
Thétard following a meeting with Shaik and Zuma. It was addressed to his
superiors in Paris. It states that Shaik requested Thomson to make payments in
return for the protection that Thétard had asked for Zuma’s confirmation of the
request, which was done in an encoded form.
Shaik’s legal team objected
to the admissibility of the fax. It was manifestly a key
document. A number of self-styled legal experts from the press and radio
were confident that its admissibility would be rejected by the court and with it
the state’s case on count three.
But the law on hearsay evidence (in
this case the document was hearsay as the author of the fax did not testify)
allows this evidence where, for example, there is further evidence to support
the accuracy of the document. The court found that there was evidence to prove,
beyond reasonable doubt, that Shaik had requested Thomson to grant a bribe to
Significantly for a future Zuma trial, the court held that even if
he was unaware of the request or had not agreed to accept the bribe, there was
proof that Shaik had persuaded Thomson to make the
The judgement holds severe implications for Zuma. If tried,
he will need to explain how the provision to Shaik of political favours
notwithstanding, he thought that the R1,2million was simply a manifestation of a convicted crook’s beneficence. He will
also need to explain his role in the meeting between
himself, Thetard and Shaik in March 1999. If tried, Shaik will be of
little use to him after the confirmation by the court of Squires’s adverse
Arguably of greater significance is the court’s
finding that the benefits given by Shaik to Zuma were contrary to the latter’s
constitutional duties as provincial minister and deputy president. If he knew of
Shaik’s purpose, Zuma is clearly guilty of a constitutional
breach of duty.
Of course, Zuma may prove to be a far better
witness then Shaik. He may have plausible explanations for his conduct. Some
evidence in this trial may not be admissible in a future trial. He may have a
case that he should have been tried with Shaik. Thus, the future of any
litigation against Zuma is still uncertain.
But this week’s judgement
will probably be remembered more for the threat it posed to Zuma’s political
ambitions than for the corrupt acts of an ambitious, brazen friend.
With acknowledgements to Serjeant at the Bar and Mail & Guardian.