Deputy President Jacob Zuma did indeed meet with Durban businessman Schabir Shaik and Alain Thetard, director of French defence company Thales, in Durban during the weekend of March 10 2000, Shaik’s lawyer has alleged.
In cross-examination at Shaik’s trial on charges of corruption and fraud, Shaik’s counsel put it to a witness that his client’s version was that this meeting had, in fact, occurred, but had taken place on March 10, not March 11 as contended by the state.
The meeting is crucial as it was following this encounter that Thetard allegedly drew up a hand-written note that appears to be a draft of a fax to his superiors recording the meeting with Zuma – and informing them that Zuma gave coded confirmation of a request, allegedly made through Shaik, for a R500 000-a-year bribe.
The contents of the note, whose admissibility in the case is being contested, were first made public by the Mail & Guardian in November 2002 when it was revealed that Zuma was being investigated by the Scorpions.
ShaikÃ¢â‚¬™s admission that there was a meeting (he did not admit to the alleged content) throws new light on a written answer by Zuma in response to a parliamentary question posed by Democratic Alliance MP Raenette Taljaard last year.
In February last year Taljaard asked in writing: ”Whether he had any meetings on 11 March 2000 and/or on any other specified dates with Mr Alain Thetard, former head of Thompson CSF’s (now Thales) Southern Africa division and/or Mr Shabir Shaik in Durban or elsewhere …”
Zuma replied: ”I did not meet Alain Thetard on 11 March 2000 in Durban or anywhere else in South Africa.”
Given that Taljaard had included the possibility of other dates, that reply now looks disingenuous in the light of Shaik’s admission.
Zuma’s counsel, advocate Neil Tuchton, declined to comment on whether his client concurred with Shaik’s version.
This week Thetard’s original note appeared in public for the first time, following a failed attempt by Zuma to gain access to it via an application in the Pretoria High Court late last year.
Legal representatives, including advocate Kessie Naidu representing Thales, eagerly examined the sheet of paper that forms the explosive centrepiece of the bribe allegations – under the somewhat uneasy eye of state advocate Anton Steynberg.
The court heard how this crucial piece of evidence had nearly gone astray.
Thetard’s former secretary, Sue Delique, testified that she thought she had lost the document when she left her briefcase in a supermarket, apparently while on the way to a consultation with the Scorpions.
It was only some weeks later, she claimed, that she had found the note among other documents she had taken when she left Thales.
Shaik’s counsel, FranÃ§ois van Zyl, gave notice that he would contest the admissibility of Thetard’s note because its author had not appeared in court to confirm its authenticity and content.
Thetard has refused to testify in South Africa. But in a separate court application by Thales earlier this year, to be removed as Shaik’s co-accused in the present case, there was an affidavit from Thetard confirming he was the author of the note and indicating that he was prepared to give evidence in France.
Whether the note is accepted as evidence will be decided later in the trial. However, Shaik’s confirmation of a meeting and the physical appearance of the note seriously undermine Thetard’s claim, in the earlier case, that the note was merely a record of disjointed thoughts and separate issues, which had nothing to do with any bribe.
Shaik’s defence has concentrated on challenging the admissibility of the note, and whether it was ever typed and faxed to Thetard’s superiors, as alleged by Delique.
Van Zyl has also made reference to a board meeting that took place shortly after the meeting with Zuma and Shaik. It appears that he will argue that Thetard had the opportunity to raise the alleged bribe issue face to face with his bosses and therefore had no need to later put the matter in writing to them.