Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2006-11-13 Reporter: Sapa

Heated Debate Rages over Judge's Shaik Denial



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Judge Hilary Squires's denial that he had referred to a "generally corrupt relationship" between former deputy president Jacob Zuma and Schabir Shaik has no legal implications, said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Monday.

"The NPA has noted weekend media reports suggesting that retired KwaZulu-Natal judge Hilary Squires has said that he never made mention of the phrase 'generally corrupt relationship' in his judgement, when describing the relationship between convicted businessman Schabir Shaik and ANC [African National Congress] deputy president Jacob Zuma," said NPA spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi.

"As far as the NPA is concerned, judge Squires's comments have no legal implications for any former, current or future criminal matters whatsoever.

"The Supreme Court of Appeal's [SCA] November 6 2006 pronouncement is the final authority on this matter. Any future NPA decision in this regard will be guided by the decision of the SCA."

Shaik was convicted of corruption last year by Squires and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

The SCA last week upheld Squires's judgement and 15-year sentence for Shaik, as well as the seizure of Shaik's assets.

The SCA said its "misattribution" of the words "a generally corrupt relationship" did not occur in its judgement in the criminal appeal by Shaik. "The quote is to be found only in the introduction to the court's subsidiary civil judgement on the forfeiture of Shaik's assets," the office of the SCA registrar said on Monday.

Denied Squires's comments made headlines since a story published on Saturday in the Weekender revealed that the judge denied ever saying while convicting Shaik of corruption last year that there was a "generally corrupt relationship" between Shaik and Zuma.

Squires said it had not been possible to make any finding on their relationship, since Zuma was not on trial.

Congress of South African Trade Unions leaders met on Monday and called for Zuma to be immediately reinstated as deputy president of the country and for the resignation or dismissal of the five SCA judges.

"The judge's comment now negates the arguments that were used to justify his dismissal and he should therefore be immediately reinstated to his position," said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven.

The federation said the judges based their finding on Shaik on their belief that Squires made the finding he now denies. "What chance will ordinary citizens of getting a fair hearing if such senior judges are as careless as this in such a high-profile case?

"This only feeds into perceptions that exist in our ranks that state organs are deployed to deal with certain targeted people."

The federation said any case against Zuma is now prejudiced.

Cosatu apologised to Squires for comments it made about him and his judgement "based on the false media reports which put these words into his mouth". It said the media and anyone who based their comments on the incorrect statement should also apologise.

The appeal judgement was delivered by SCA Judge President Craig Howie, with Deputy Judge Lex Mpati, and judges Mohamed Navsa, Jonathan Heher and Piet Streicher.

"Instead of going through Squires's judgement line by line, the Supreme Court merely parroted newspaper editorials. The five of them clearly must go. If they can do this in such a high-profile case, imagine what they do to ordinary, poor people," Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told Business Day.

'Lunatic fringe' Democratic Alliance MP Sheila Camerer said Vavi's comment place him on the lunatic fringe. "Whether Judge Squires actually used the phrase 'generally corrupt relationship' when referring to the relationship between Schabir Shaik and Jacob Zuma or not, the judgement handed down by Judge Squires clearly indicates that this was the case," said Camerer.

"For every corruptor to be convicted of corruption, there must be a corruptee ... Regardless of who first coined the phrase, it describes what actually went on between Shaik and Zuma, the details of which were revealed in Shaik's court case."

The South African Communist Party (SACP) called for the chief justice to investigate the circumstances leading to the SCA ruling and said it underlines the need for transformation of the judiciary.

SACP spokesperson Malesela Maleka said the press ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission should investigate "how the media has over such a long period of time consistently fostered such a blatant lie and literally gotten away with it".

Zuma's lawyer, Michael Hulley, said his team will pursue the matter through the courts rather than the media, reported the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Prosecutor Billy Downer, who led the case against Shaik, told the Star it is a storm in a teacup.

"It's an argument without any substance," said Downer. "It makes no difference because that's in effect what he [Squires] found."

ANC Youth League spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said it is unfortunate that Squires only sent the letter a year after his judgement because it "could have saved us all from this pain", reported the Citizen.

With acknowledgement to Sapa and Mail & Guardian.