Durban - Former presidential adviser Schabir Shaik is preparing to turn State witness as the possibility looms that President Jacob Zuma will stand trial on fraud and corruption charges.
His admission comes in the wake of Friday’s dismissal by the Supreme Court of Appeal of an application by Zuma and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to appeal a 2016 ruling by the Pretoria High Court that the charges be reinstated.
Many of the charges relate to his dealings with Shaik, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2005 on similar charges, while he escaped prosecution.
“Of course I cannot refuse to testify if I am called to do so. But that does not mean I am going to do so in a vindictive manner. I will be guided by my conscience and welcome the opportunity to put certain aspects of my relationship and dealings with the president into perspective, which I did not have the opportunity to do previously."
“Perhaps it would bring closure once and for all and give the president his day in court to explain matters for himself,” Shaik told the Sunday Tribune exclusively.
While Shaik mulls over the ruling, Zuma’s team has already written to the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) requesting an opportunity to study the recent ruling dismissing their appeal before responding.
The NDPP has agreed to wait for Zuma’s submissions before deciding on the next step.
Shaik’s role now as a possible witness against Zuma is interpreted by many in his inner circle as a double-edged sword. If he is seen as a hostile witness, he stands to lose the presidential pardon he desperately hoped for during his medical parole.
However, with two years to go to complete his sentence, it appears he has nothing to lose.
But he insists that his testimony, if he is called on, will not be aimed at settling scores.
“I’ve matured over the years and with each passing year you learn to let go of the bitterness."
“I no longer have the relationship I had with the president before my conviction. But I have closure and any testimony I give will be based on facts, not on any act of vengeance,” added Shaik.
Zuma has fought the reinstatement of 783 charges since 2005, the same year Shaik received his sentencing for bribery and corruption involving Zuma.
Despite opposition challenges arguing for charges against Zuma to be reinstated, the president received a reprieve when, in 2009, former NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe decided, instead, to drop the charges.
Allegations of political interference were claimed to have been among the reasons the NPA dropped the charges.
That decision was challenged by the DA, leading to Zuma facing several years of running court battles.
More recently, his team, along with the NPA, conceded rather unexpectedly that the decision to withdraw the 783 charges (money Zuma is alleged to have received in bribery payments from Shaik) was “irrational”.
Approached for comment, several legal experts all agreed that Zuma’s legal woes were not about to end soon - and may well run beyond two years, by which time Shaik will be a free man.
“The facts are simple. Zuma’s fate, for now, lies in the hands of NPA head Shaun Abrahams."
“It is now up to the NPA to decide whether it will proceed with the charges against the president or drop them."
“Should they proceed, Zuma will most certainly face a trial for the 783 counts of fraud and corruption which he appealed against in 2016."
“If the NPA chooses to drop the charges, there is still the possibility - and most probable option - of a civil challenge against Zuma by AfriForum through its advocate, Gerrie Nel."
“Either way, it doesn’t look good for Zuma,” says human rights lawyer Saber Jazbhay.
Should Zuma face a trial, it is expected to be lengthy, explosive and damning. It is also likely to bring into question previous findings and their impact on the reinstated charges.
These include the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the arms deal which found no wrongdoing by Zuma and its implication today in the wake of recent explosive claims by lawyer Ajay Sooklal that Zuma had allegedly asked him not to disclose payments he (Zuma) had allegedly received from French arms firm Thales.
Sooklal has also made himself available should Zuma stand trial on corruption and fraud charges.
Spokesperson for the NPA, Luvuyo Mfaku, said: “The team will deliberate and map the way forward but at this stage we don’t have time frames as to when we are going to conclude that process.”
Of claims that Abrahams was protecting the president, Mfaku said: “That is rubbish, utter rubbish. We are not politicians. Why would we protect politicians?”