Thales knew Schabir Shaik was bribing Zuma and joined in criminal enterprise, court hears

Advocate Barry Roux is representing Thales. File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Advocate Barry Roux is representing Thales. File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Published Oct 26, 2020


Pietermaritzburg – The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says it charged French arms manufacturer Thales with racketeering because the company knowingly participated in a scheme of bribing former president Jacob Zuma in return for his influence and political protection.

This was the main point of the argument of the prosecuting body before the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday, where Thales wants the racketeering charges against it in the Zuma corruption trial (where they are co-accused) set aside.

Racketeering is when individuals engage in organised crime and try to cover their tracks using legitimate companies and payment systems.

The NPA was represented by advocate Wim Trengove while the French arms company was represented by advocate Barry Roux.

Trengove told the full bench that at some point Thales paid a bribe to Zuma via Nkobi holdings, a company owned by convicted Durban businessman Shaik and “dressed up” as a “service fee”. But to protect itself, it kept a distance and utilised its proxy, Shaik.

Nkobi was Thales’ black economic empowerment partner during the country’s multibillion-rand procurement of arms in the late 1990s. The court heard that Thales entered into a partnership with Nkobi because it believed that the company had the right political connections in the ruling party and the connection was Zuma, who brought in “political capital”.

Trengove told the court that Zuma once attended a meeting in London in November 1998 to meet Thales executives and the aim was to persuade them that Shaik’s Nkobi was the right local company to partner with.

It is said Shaik revelled in the fact that he could use his political connections and bring Zuma to a meeting to plead his case. Eventually, the deal was clinched, and Thales had to partner with Nkobi.

Trengove further told the court that their case against Thales was reliant on circumstantial evidence. One piece of the evidence is the now-infamous “encrypted fax” sent in 2000 by Nkobi Holdings to Thales negotiating a R500 000 annual bribe to Zuma.

“They knew at the time that Mr Shaik was bribing Mr Zuma and what they did … was to join in that project of bribing Mr Zuma and the (Durban) high court found that to be so,” Trengove argued on behalf of the State.

According to the State’s legal representative (Trengove) during the hearing, Shaik “had Zuma in his pockets” to such an extent that over a period of 10 years, he bribed him 783 times. However, he did not specify the amounts of money or favours that were advanced to Zuma in all these instances.

“When they joined in (Thales), they agreed to pay Mr Zuma those bribes… They realised that they were buying influence (of Zuma),” Trengove further argued.

Closing argument on behalf of Thales, Roux pleaded with the full bench to carefully listen to his client’s argument that while they were in partnership with Shaik’s companies, they did not know that there were dealings with Zuma.

“If there is a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Zuma… is there a corruption because of racketeering, a racket or because of plain corruption because there was a big promise of payment? Which one?” asked Roux.

Seated inside the high court and listening attentively to arguments throughout, was Advocate Billy Downer SC (senior counsel), the NPA’s lead prosecutor in the Zuma corruption trial which returns to court in December this year.

The full bench of the court, consisting of Judge Mahendra Chetty, Judge Antony Van Zyl and Alsa Bezuidenhout, reserved the judgment after almost three hours of arguments.

Political Bureau