/ 29 August 2007

Thint contests validity of warrants in appeal court

A director of French arms company Thint always cooperated with investigators probing alleged corruption and fraud in South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms deal, the Supreme Court of Appeal heard on Wednesday.

”Mr [Pierre] Moynot has at all times offered the investigating team his kind and affable cooperation,” said Thint lawyer Peter Hodes.

He said 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.”

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.

Thint is arguing that warrants used to search their Pretoria offices in August 2005 were invalid and should never have been issued. It is appealing a Pretoria High Court ruling that dismissed Thint’s application to have the warrants declared invalid.

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 also argued that the warrants used were ”overbroad”.

Judge Ian Farlam asked him whether one could not look at the founding affidavit to work out what was covered in the warrant.

”We contend that the overbreadth is in the search warrant. The investigating officer doesn’t have to ‘sluk everything for soetkoek‘,” he said, meaning that the investigating officer had to tailor his warrant.

There was laughter when Judge Robert Nugent interrupted him with a ”what?” and asked for an explanation of the expression.

Wednesday morning’s proceedings were interspersed with light-hearted moments.

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

Judge Tom Cloete asked him why the warrant had to be understandable by the person being searched ”then and there”, at the moment it was executed.

”Because you’ve got to protect your rights and not by anything physical. I’m not in a physical frame of mind,” said Hodes to more laughter.

Cloete suggested to him that the warrant had to be intelligible when one went to court to enforce one’s rights.

”We contend no,” said Hodes. It had to be understood at the time of the search.

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

Present in court on Wednesday were Zuma and his lawyer, Michael Hulley, as well as Thint director Pierre Moynot. For the state, prosecutor Billy Downer and advocate Wim Trengove were again present.

During the morning a handful of Zuma supporters took their seats in the public gallery. During intervals Zuma turned around and smiled for the photographers in the public gallery.

The case continues. — Sapa