African National Congress president Jacob Zuma’s last-ditch bid to prevent key documents from being used against him came to an end on Wednesday when the Constitutional Court reserved judgement.
Zuma’s legal team and that of French arms manufacturer Thint appealed against a Supreme Court of Appeals judgement upholding controversial 2005 search-and-seizure raids.
They had also tried to have ruled invalid a letter, authorised by Judge Phillip Levensohn, requesting documents from Mauritius.
The court heard four related applications by Zuma; his attorney, Michael Hulley; Thint; and Thint Holdings Southern Africa for leave to appeal against three judgements of the Supreme Court of Appeal on November 8 last year.
They objected to the searches carried out on their premises as part of an investigation against Zuma following the conviction of his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik on charges of fraud and corruption, relating to the alleged bribing of Zuma for support and protection of Thint during the arms-deal process.
Originally, only two days were set aside for the hearing but on Wednesday night Chief Justice Pius Langa ordered that the court reconvene on Thursday to finish proceedings.
In contrast to previous court appearances, which were marked by thunderous supportive singing, only the whirring of camera shutters aimed at Zuma could be heard for the first two days. On Thursday, he stayed away from the court building, leaving Thint chief executive Pierre Moynot sitting alone behind their legal teams.
Zuma and Thint argued that the warrants allowing the searches, granted by Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, were invalid because they were ”overbroad” and vague, and did not list exactly what should be seized.
Zuma’s lawyer, Kemp J Kemp, said on Thursday that all the state had to do was to attach an affidavit that would have told those conducting the searches more about the investigation and which information to look for. This would have prevented both the seizure of documents unrelated to the case and potential violations of privacy and lawyer-client privilege.
He said the warrants were so vague that even the people whose premises were searched on August 18 2005 would not have known which documents were being sought.
Between 250 and 300 officials arrived at Zuma’s homes in Johannesburg, his homestead in Nkandla and his offices, Hulley’s office, and the home and offices of Moynot at 6.30am on the day of the search and seizure.
Kemp said that without the specific details, those being searched would also not have been able to point out and raise objections to the seizure of information or items that fell outside the scope of the warrant.
He said that despite of a list of items noted on the warrant, the officials took only boxes of Zuma’s financial records, which were transferred to Hulley when Shaik resigned as Zuma’s financial adviser.
‘A case has to be made’
Earlier in the hearing, Thint lawyer Peter Hodes questioned why the arms company had been targeted for a search-and-seizure raid in the investigation against Zuma, saying it had already been summonsed and had handed over ”massive amounts” of documents to the National Prosecuting Authority, including a diary it had sought.
He said the state had not made a case to the judge when asking for the warrants. ”The judge issuing a search warrant is not a rubber-stamp; a case has to be made out for it,” said Hodes.
Advocate Wim Trengove, arguing for the state, told the court the June 2005 warrants satisfied the requirement of ”objective delineation” and ”went a lot further”.
Citing from the warrant used by the Scorpions to search Zuma’s flat in Killarney, Johannesburg, Trengove said that the documents ”that have a bearing on the investigation” were detailed in an annexure attached to the warrant and that ”the offences are listed in the warrant”.
”When the applicant contends that the warrant was deficient, they must say that the [Supreme Court of Appeal] was wrong,” said Trengove, adding that the state believes it has a good chance of convicting Zuma on corruption. ”We are sure that we have a case, not merely a prima facie case, but a case with a reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Trengove said the difference between interpretations of the search warrants used in the searches — by the state, on the one hand, and Zuma, Thint and Hulley on the other — is ”extremely narrow”.
Following argument over the raids, the state locked horns with Zuma and Thint’s legal teams over the Mauritius documents.
The state obtained the letter of request from Levensohn after contending that the incorrect section of the International Cooperation in Criminal Matters Act was used to obtain the letter.
The documents include the 2000 diary of Alain Thetard, the former chief executive of Thales International’s South African subsidiary Thint.
It details a meeting in March 2000 between him, Zuma and Shaik where the NPA alleges that an agreement on a R500Ã‚Â 000-a-year bribe for Zuma was reached.
Kemp submitted that the state did not need the documents for investigative purposes as it already had copies, which were ”brought here [to South Africa] in an improper way”.
Trengove contended that if Levensohn’s letter were ruled invalid, Zuma’s August 4 trial could be further delayed by an application to the trial judge for his permission to obtain the documents.
Judge Hilary Squires accepted copies of the documents as evidence in Shaik’s trial in 2005. — Sapa