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Is this how palms were greased?

When the state first presented details of its case against Schabir Shaik it had a problem explaining the alleged R500 000 ”Zuma bribe”.

The alleged solicitation was easy to understand. The state had Thales executive Alain Thetard’s hand-written note about the ”effort” requested of Thales, and what would allegedly be offered in return – the protection of the company during the arms deal investigation and the support of Deputy President Jacob Zuma for future projects.

But proving the bribe was paid was clearly difficult for the Scorpions, who presented a complicated story about R1-million from the Nelson Mandela Foundation being paid via Zuma and Shaik to a rural development trust, the Development Africa Trust, controlled by another Zuma benefactor, Vivian Reddy.

The original state version was vague, throwing in various payments by Zuma associates towards his R1,3-million traditional homestead at Nkandla, without fully explaining how they were linked to Thales. Also unexplained was how payments to the Development Africa Trust, whose beneficiaries were Zulu traditional leaders and royalty, benefited Zuma.

The opening presentation by prosecutor Billy Downer has now clarified the state’s case. The alleged scheme was as follows:

  • In September 1999, with the auditor general’s inquiry into the arms deal looming, Thetard allegedly meets Shaik to discuss paying a bribe for protection against the investigation.
  • In March 2000 Zuma allegedly gives the go-ahead for the bribe payment – he vociferously denies this – and begins planning the Nkandla development. Neither then nor at any other stage in the building of the homestead, which starts in July 2000, can Zuma afford the project himself.
  • In August 2000 Shaik writes to Thetard to complain that he is not meeting his ”undertakings”.
  • In October 2000 Shaik complains again that Thetard is reneging on his undertaking and that ”my party”, having proceeded to ”an advanced stage on a sensitive matter”, feels let down. Development at Nkandla stops because of Zuma’s failure to pay.
  • On October 2 Mandela endorses a cheque for R2-million to Zuma. The cheque is intended to be split, with R1-million going to the Jacob Zuma Educational Trust and R1-million to the Development Africa Trust.
  • On October 17 Zuma pays R1-million to the education trust, but on October 18 Shaik transfers R900 000 of the remaining Mandela cash from Zuma’s account to an Nkobi Group account. The next day he issues instructions for the Nkandla development to be suspended. Zuma still owes Development Africa R1-million.
  • On November 1 Nkobi and Thales draw up a ”service provider agreement”, making provision for the payment of R500 000 in two tranches. The state alleges this was to disguise the bribe.
  • On February 16 2001 Thales makes a first payment of R250 000.
  • On February 24 Shaik pays more than R250 000 to Development Africa and issues three more post-dated cheques for the balance of R750 000 of the Mandela money Zuma owes to Development Africa.
  • By August 2001 the investigation into Zuma is in full swing and has probably become known. Thales makes no further payments. Shaik never challenges the termination of the service provider agreement, but makes three more reduced payments to Development Africa on behalf of Zuma. In the end R400 000 of the Mandela Foundation money is still unaccounted for.
  • In court this week, Downer argued that Zuma could not have expected to use the Mandela money for Nkandla, and must have expected a cash injection from elsewhere.
  • Shaik could or would not provide it – indeed he acted to divert some of the Mandela money until the Thales money came through. Co-incidence? Shaik says so. He denies the alleged bribe and claims the delayed payments to Development Africa had nothing to do with Thales.
  • The state claims the service provider agreement was a cover for payments Shaik would pass on to Zuma in terms of the bribe agreement – and that the payment of Zuma’s debt to Development Africa formed part of this on-payment of the Thales bribe.
  • The prosecution has apparently backed away from suggesting that Reddy’s support for Zuma – he stood surety for Zuma’s bond on Nkandla – was connected to the alleged Thales bribe scheme.


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Sam Sole
Sam Sole works from South Africa. Journalist and managing partner of the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. Digging dirt, fertilising democracy. Sam Sole has over 17731 followers on Twitter.
Stefaans Brummer
Stefaans is an old hand at investigations. A politics and journalism graduate, he cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s; then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994. For the next 16 years a late-1990s diversion into television and freelancing apart, the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money. Stefaans has co-authored exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal. Stefaans and Sam Sole co-founded amaBhungane in 2010. He divides his time between the demands of media bureaucracy which he detests, coaching members of the amaBhungane team, and his first love, digging for dung.

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