Judgement reserved in Thint appeal

The Supreme Court of Appeal on Wednesday reserved judgement in the dispute between Thint and the national director of public prosecutions over the seizure of documents from the French arms company.

State counsel Wim Trengove argued before the Bloemfontein court for the necessity of warrants, saying it was “absurd” to believe that [arms company] Thint was trustworthy enough to respond honestly to a subpoena.

“The suggestion that Thint is such a trustworthy citizen that it would respond honestly and openly to a subpoena ... is an absurd suggestion,” said Trengove.

He was arguing in an appeal by Thint against a Pretoria High Court ruling that dismissed the company’s application to have search warrants declared invalid.

Trengove was arguing against Thint’s contention that the search warrants executed on its premises on August 18 2005 were unnecessary.

He said former Thint director Alain Thetard had failed to comply with a subpoena requesting his diary for 2000.

Investigators wanted the diary to obtain details of a “crucial” meeting between African National Congress deputy president Jacob Zuma, fraud convict Schabir Shaik and Thetard in Durban on March 11 of that year.
The diary was later found and seized in Mauritius.

“Thus the cooperation of the French-based Thomson group [of which Thint is a member] could no longer be relied upon,” said Trengove.

He said Thint cooperated only in the sense that they produced “mountains of innocuous information, but nothing incriminating”.

“When there are reasonable grounds to suspect someone of dishonesty ... there must also be an inherent risk that the person will not respond honestly and openly and frankly [to a subpoena]”.

Thint’s lawyer, Peter Hodes, submitted that Thint director Pierre Moynot had always cooperated with the Scorpions investigators.

“Mr Moynot has at all times offered the investigating team his kind and affable cooperation,” said Hodes.

He submitted the company had never been accused of anything.

“At the time of the warrants being issued, Thint was not an accused and as we stand here today [Wednesday] Thint is not an accused.”

Massive numbers

Hodes submitted that the national director of public prosecutions did not disclose all relevant facts to Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, who granted the search warrant.

In 2001 Thint made “massive” numbers of documents available to investigators, as well as copies of computer hard drives, said Hodes.

“If that had been told to Ngoepe, he might have decided, in the case of Thint, against issuing search warrants.”

Hodes dismissed the state’s argument that the vastness of the case, which started in November 2000, made full disclosure “logistically impossible”.

“My client was entitled in law to a full disclosure of all material facts.”

Hodes also argued that the warrants used were “over broad”.

“The reason it [the warrant] is over broad is that it doesn’t express the intention of the searcher, which is alleged fraud by Mr [ANC deputy president Jacob] Zuma in not making declarations to Parliament and so on.”

Thint wanted the court to uphold the appeal and order all the seized documents returned.

Trengove asked the court that, should it find in his clients’ favour, it order the documents be kept with a registrar where they would be secured and sealed. This would prevent “unlawful disclosure”.

Judge Robert Nugent asked him if Thint’s right to privacy would not be violated if sealed copies of the documents were kept outside the owner’s possession. Trengove said: “As long as there is no disclosure there’s no invasion. So a preservation order against disclosure will ensure there’s no invasion.”

Present in court on Wednesday were Zuma and his lawyer, Michael Hulley, as well as Moynot. Zuma left at lunch time.

The state was represented by prosecutor Billy Downer and his team of investigators.

During the morning a handful of Zuma supporters took their seats in the public gallery.—Sapa

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