Zuma: A hard nut to crack

Amid the accusations and counter-accusations concerning leaks around the Scorpions investigation of Deputy President Jacob Zuma, a picture is emerging of the wide scope of the probe and the intense political and propaganda battle raging around it.

The 35 questions posed to Zuma by the Scorpions range far beyond asking about his allegedly corrupt relationship with the French defence group Thales — the primary focus of the probe — or with the company’s South African kingpin, Schabir Shaik, who also handles Zuma’s financial affairs.

The Scorpions have, among other things, asked for particulars “of all expenses paid on behalf of the African National Congress during the period 1994 to date”. Given that Shaik is known to have acted as a fund-raiser on behalf of the ANC, the direction of the investigation could prove embarrassing to the party.

The Scorpions have also asked for particulars of any financial benefits received by Zuma from a number of high-profile sources, including Nelson Mandela, Durban businessman and ANC-donor Vivian Reddy, and a businessman once very closely associated with President Thabo Mbeki himself, Jurgen Kogl.

Kogl this week told the Mail & Guardian the Scorpions had approached him in March with questions about the company Cay Nominees, a blind trust that he manages on behalf of “a variety of people”.

Kogl said he was not prepared to breach confidentiality and open the nature of the trust and its beneficiaries for scrutiny.

Reddy said his relationship was with the ANC not with Zuma, although he conceded he had contributed to the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust, a bursary fund for disadvantaged students that was launched in November 2000.

No comment could be obtained from Mandela at the time of going to press, but one well-placed official said Mandela would come down “very strongly on Zuma’s side”.

The leaking of the questions, which were drawn up in response to demands by Zuma’s lawyers that the Scorpions clarify the nature of the investigation against him, not only created a storm about whether the Scorpions were conducting a campaign through the media against Zuma, but also served to publicise the potentially serious implications of the probe for the ANC and its senior figures.

Those implications appear to have hit home. A very senior ANC official this week told the M&G that the Scorpions had “started to act like Heath”.
Judge Willem Heath was unceremoniously removed from the arms deal probe when it became clear that his involvement might generate unmanageable political costs.

It is arguably no coincidence that in the week that the Scorpions were facing public pressure about media leaks and their handling of the investigation, Mbeki chose to issue a warning that the organisation might have to be folded back into the police service because of “structural problems” in the relationship between the two organisations.

Adding to the pressure on National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka, it was confirmed this week that the person leading the arms deal investigation, advocate Gerda Ferreira, had resigned with effect from the end of August.

Although Scorpions spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said there was no link between tensions surrounding the arms probe and Ferreira’s departure, officials in the unit say she has been frustrated by political infighting.

The leaking of the questions has also now removed some of the initiative from Ngcuka and made it more difficult for him to make public any of the findings of his investigation, except by way of a formal legal process. Those circumstances suggest that the leak came from Zuma’s camp rather than from the Scorpions, as Ngcuka himself has strongly implied.

However, in a statement issued on Wednesday, Zuma continued to place the leak at the door of Ngcuka’s unit, saying: “This is not the first time that there have been leaks to the media of information gathered by the Scorpions for the arms deal investigation. Indeed, throughout, there has been a consistent pattern of such leaks.”

In his statement Zuma also went on the offensive, saying he had to exert “much legal pressure” even to get the Scorpions to admit they were investigating him.

Zuma said that only after a threat to apply for legal access to the information allegedly implicating him in soliciting a R500 000 annual bribe from Thales did he receive a list of questions that would enable him to put his side of the story.

The questions include a request for details of any meetings with any representatives of Thales and any involvent by Zuma in promoting the involvement of Shaik’s Nkobi group in the arms deal. But they go much further, demanding a full disclosure by Zuma of all his financial affairs and official and private diaries.

Zuma said he considered many of the questions “invasive of my privacy and unrelated to any conceivable contravention of the law arising from the arms procurement process”.

The deputy president said his lawyers would respond to the questions “in due course”.

His attack comes in the wake of an e-mail smear against Ngcuka distributed widely to the media last week.

The smear is believed to be linked to the investigation of Zuma, and one businessman who has been drawn into the investigation told the M&G: “There’s more to come [on Ngcuka]. This is a very rough fight.”

It was notable that on the weekend following the smear e-mail, Ngcuka publicly called for Tony Yengeni and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela not to be sent to jail — a move that astonished some of his own staff.

However, both Madikizela-Mandela and Yengeni are influential in the ANC Youth League circles that are believed to be the source of some of the damaging information contained in the Ngcuka smear.

This week also saw a new charm offensive from Shaik and his brother Chippy, the former chief of procurement for the Department of Defence and a pivotal role-player in the arms deal.

In radio and newspaper interviews Chippy and Schabir threw down the gauntlet to the Scorpions. Chippy openly admitted to providing to his brother with a document that contains a copy of minutes of a Cabinet sub-committee meeting that discussed the arms deal. Schabir is facing trial for theft or illegal possession of these documents.

In his own interview, Shaik described these charges as “Mickey Mouse” and promised he would go public with the “truth” if the Scorpions persisted in what he termed abusing their powers.

  • Meanwhile, the FirstRand group announced on Thursday that non-executive director Mac Maharaj would be given seven days to respond to the findings of an investigation into alleged “corrupt practices” involving the former transport minister.The board would then take a final decision on his future. Maharaj or his wife had allegedly received gifts and payments from Schabir Shaik, who was also questioned by the Scorpions this week about his relationship with Maharaj. Maharaj told the M&G he was preparing his response and had no intention of resigning.

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