Mac Maharaj to resign from FirstRand

By Maureen Isaacson Time of article published Aug 10, 2003

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Mac Maharaj, the former minister of transport, will resign from FirstRand this week, his wife, Zarina Maharaj, revealed on Saturday. In an interview with The Sunday Independent, she said Maharaj - FirstRand's highest-paid non-executive director - had decided to step down because the public furore around him was causing embarrassment to the bank and its shareholders.

The Maharaj saga first emerged on February 16 when a media report alleged he received more than R500 000 from Shabir Shaik, who is being investigated for alleged corruption in South Africa's multibillion-rand arms deal.

It was alleged payments made were related to the awarding of tenders for the new-format driver's licence and the N3 toll road between Johannesburg and Durban.

The toll road deal was financed in part via FirstRand subsidiary Rand Merchant Bank (RMB). At the time, FirstRand vetoed Maharaj's offer to quit and opted for its own investigation. Last week, a joint report by auditing firm Deloitte & Touche and attorneys Hofmeyr Herbstein & Ginwala was completed. Both the report and Maharaj's prompt response to it are still under consideration by the FirstRand board. The bank says it will make an announcement on Maharaj next week.

Allegations of corruption in the arms deal are being probed by the national prosecuting authority (NPA) and its elite Scorpions unit. Zarina Maharaj claimed on Saturday that Bulelani Ngcuka, the NPA head, had repeatedly told Maharaj and others, including Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC secretary-general, that the Scorpions had cleared Maharaj of all allegations levelled against him, including finding no link between payments and the awarding of tenders while Maharaj was minister of transport.

Ngcuka said he would publically clear Maharaj if he helped the Scorpions with their investigations into deputy president Jacob Zuma and Shaik.

According to Zarina Maharaj, Ngcuka said: "I need you to help me on the Zuma and (Schabir) Shaik matters before I publicly announce that you and your wife Zarina are clear of any charges. I need you to get Zuma to answer the questions."

The Scorpions had put 35 questions to Zuma about his alleged involvement in corruption in the arms deal. Shaik, a financial adviser and friend to Zuma, is embroiled in a major controversy over allegations that he paid kickbacks to Zuma and Maharaj to win arms and transport contracts. The Scorpions have alleged that Zuma solicited a R500 000-a-year bribe from Thompson (CSF), now named Thales, to protect the company during any investigations into the arms deal.

Shaik and his company, African Defence Systems, won a significant contract in the arms deal with Thales. According to Zarina Maharaj, Ngcuka said: "I need Shaik to admit guilt and opt for a plea bargain."

Shaik was recently questioned on SABC radio about whether his payments to Maharaj had anything to do with the R265-million card-format driver's licence contract and the R2,5-billion contract for constructing the N3 toll road, which his company, Nkobi Holdings, had won.

Last week, Shaik said he had paid R350 000 to Zarina Maharaj for her services as a consultant to his company over four years, not R500 000 as alleged. He also paid R15 000 for a Maharaj trip to Disneyworld, but this was because his American business partner had asked him to.

Shaik says he is still under the impression Maharaj paid the US hotel bill, and that this hotel bill was probably paid twice.

Zarina Maharaj claimed that on Wednesday Ngcuka sent a message to her husband saying that if he could send an intermediary - whom he named - they could begin discussions to resolve all matters. She claimed her husband received a call at the ANC headquarters, at Luthuli House, the following day from one of Ngcuka's men in the presence of Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC secretary-general.

She said her husband turned on the speaker phone facility so that Motlanthe could hear the conversation. On the phone, Ngcuka's man repeated the same proposal for him to help resolve the Zuma and Shaik matters.

Motlanthe refused to speak about the issue when contacted by The Sunday Independent on Saturday.

Zarina Maharaj claims that later that evening lawyer Yunus Shaik, a brother of Schabir Shaik, received a message that Ngcuka would agree to confirm to any media that there were no charges against her husband. She claims, however, that when the media contacted the Scorpions, they were merely told the investigation was continuing.

Later that afternoon, Ngcuka's messenger said he would not issue confirmation of Mac Maharaj's innocence to the media because all matters were going through a mediation process, which would commence that evening.

She said: "On Friday we heard from the mediator at 10pm that the meeting had not taken place that evening because Ngcuka was going abroad and would be away until Saturday August 16, when discussions could begin."

Sipho Ngwema, Ngcuka's spokesperson, told The Sunday Independent a decision on whether to prosecute on the investigation into the national driver's licence contract, issued to Prodiba during Maharaj's term as minister of transport, had not yet been taken.

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