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Durban - Four years after convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik was released on medical parole, questions remain about his health – but he insists that hypertension medication is keeping him alive.
In an exclusive interview with The Mercury at his plush home in Innes Road, Morningside, this week, Shaik, 56, said: “I am still on six hypertension drugs. I take six pills in the morning and six in the evening. These are all prescription medicines. I will be on drugs for as long as I am alive.
“I also go for a medical check-up every month,” he said.
Amid great controversy, President Jacob Zuma’s former financial adviser was released on parole on medical grounds in March 2009. He arrived home in an ambulance and was wheeled into his room on a stretcher after he being diagnosed with uncontrolled hypertension, a condition he describes as a silent killer.
Asked if he was terminally ill, Shaik responded that he suffered from “severe uncontrollable hypertension”, a genetic affliction of the vascular system, from which both his parents suffered.
He had changed his eating habits and was now on a strict low-carbohydrate diet. His eyesight had improved as a result.
Shaik said his condition could be managed through medication and by living a healthy lifestyle.
He told The Mercury that when he was in prison, the Correctional Services Department and the Health Department did not have the expertise to manage his condition. So he became a “ping pong ball” between the two state facilities until he was paroled. Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in jail for fraud and corruption involving ANC president Zuma, but only served two years and four months of his sentence. His release sparked questions as to whether he really was in the final stages of a terminal illness – the basis on which medical parole is usually granted.
DA MP James Selfe said the normal grounds for medical parole required that a person be released to die a “dignified and consolatory death”, as the Correctional Services Act put it. Selfe said Shaik may very well be on medication for hypertension, but he was not released legally.
“Hypertension can be treated inside the prison hospital. It was clear he (Shaik) was released unlawfully for political reasons. The whole thing was a travesty, followed by a cover-up. He shouldn’t have been released on medical grounds,” he said.
But, Selfe added, Shaik’s matter could not be challenged now because he was released on medical parole just weeks before a change in the law kicked in that would have given the inspecting judge of prisons the power to refer the decision for review.
Shaik, who was once a prominent businessman and Durban high-flyer, now spends most of his time confined to his home.
He said that it was ironic that he was now a “prisoner” in his home and unable to enjoy the freedom he fought for.
Speaking in a hoarse voice, Shaik said: “Some days are good. Some days are bad. I don’t even know how long I am going to live. I am not too bad. What can you say? Life is like that. All our lives are up and down.”
There were “many other things” to worry about than him.
“You must worry about J Arthur Brown,” he suggested, referring to the former Fidentia boss who was given a suspended prison sentence in May and fined R150 000 after being convicted on two counts of fraud. Brown had originally been charged with 192 counts of fraud, theft and money laundering.
“That guy (Brown allegedly) stole hundreds of millions and gets a suspended sentence. There is no justice in this country,” Shaik said.
He was also emotional when he spoke about how he had lost his businesses, and about his fraud conviction, which prevented him from being a director of a company or opening a business school.
“The Asset Forfeiture (Unit) took R4 billion from me in cash and assets. I didn’t side with (former president Thabo) Mbeki. I sided with Jacob Zuma.
“Baba Zuma is right for this country. He sacrificed for this province and brought peace and stability.”
Shaik says he has to keep a close eye on his watch before leaving home, to comply with his parole conditions.
His parole conditions in 2011 were six hours of free time, from 12pm to 6pm, on Saturdays and Sundays. He also had two hours’ free time every day during the week at any time of his choice.
Shaik said he now enjoyed more free time – but did not specify how much.
“I do a lot of philosophical reading, I do a bit of yoga, I exercise and swim a little every day,” he said.
But Shaik said that his new lifestyle was “boring and mind-killing”.
“For a person who was involved in business at corporate level, to suddenly stop… But if that’s God’s plan, then I must accept that,” he said.
Shaik said he also devoted most of his time to his seven-year-old son, Yasir. He said the trial and his time in prison had taken a toll on him, but his family had been the biggest casualty. He and his wife, Zuleika, had become estranged, but had since reconciled and were living together.
Shaik maintains that his friendship with Zuma has not changed.
He said the State offered him a plea bargain before he went on trial, but he chose to protect his “comrades”.
Asked if Zuma had repaid him the R2 million “loan”, Shaik said that the issue was “personal”. He spoke highly of Zuma, saying he had been Shaik’s commander in exile, and that “we must protect our president”.
It has been more than four years since Shaik applied for a presidential pardon, but he is no closer to finding out if he will get his freedom.
But Shaik said there were people who had been promised presidential pardons during Thabo Mbeki’s time and who had been waiting longer than he had.
“He (Zuma) hasn’t left me in the lurch, he has to apply his mind to 120 other applications,” he said.
On Friday, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development spokesman advocate Mthunzi Mhaga said Shaik’s application for pardon was in “process”.
“This process is confidential and therefore details of Mr Shaik’s application and any other request for pardon cannot be discussed in public,” he said.
Shaik said he had no regrets and remained adamant that he and Zuma had not had a corrupt relationship. He believed his arrest and trial had been part of a political conspiracy to discredit Zuma.
Selfe said he did not believe anyone should get a presidential pardon as this amounted to subversion of the administration of justice.
“I am opposed to presidential pardons for anybody. Once the court process has run its course the court judgment and sentence must stand,” he said.