Former ANC parliamentarian turned arms activist Andrew Feinstein understands now why President Jacob Zuma kept encouraging him to investigate the arms deal during his time on Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in 2000.
It was the oddest part of the situation for Feinstein, an idealistic MP at the time, who was put in a tough spot with the allegations. While senior ANC figures begged or screamed at him to scrap the investigation, the party’s then deputy president, who was implicated, kept telling him to continue.
“I had this weird experience with everyone telling me to cancel the investigation that Scopa had called for and Zuma kept saying: ‘you must continue with it, it’s your constitutional responsibility’.”
It was a game, he suspected, because in 2001 Zuma “suddenly cut off all communication with me”.
Arms deal bribe
Now, explosive new details of how the arms deal bribes were facilitated, which were published on Sunday, confirm what Feinstein later understood about Zuma’s reaction.
Zuma was pestering Feinstein to continue the investigation “because at that point Thales had not paid him, so he needed some sort of investigation so that he would be paid”.
It was a deeply cynical move that paid off for Zuma. According to the article, published by the Sunday Times yesterday, he received R500 000 a year from the French arms giant Thales, among other benefits, to help head off a damaging investigation into the company and Zuma. The company’s support for Zuma continued right up to his election as president of the ANC – and included a hefty €1-million “donation” to the ruling party.
But as soon as Zuma had his first payment from Thales, after presumably sufficiently scaring them into acting with Scopa’s threatened investigation, he stopped contacting Feinstein and the investigation was scrapped.
“The Scopa investigation had to disappear and I was kicked off the committee … This article confirms it all.”
The testimony of a former arms deal fixer, revealed on Sunday, has put Jacob Zuma and the ANC in a difficult position.
The Sunday Times story indicates that Zuma accepted a R500 000-a-year bribe, according to testimony from Ajay Sooklal, a ‘fixer’ for Thales, by using the code words “Eiffel tower”.
It is the first time that someone has sworn under oath, and provided details, of how money flowed directly to the ANC from French arms giant Thales as a bribe for the arms deal. And as far as campaigners are concerned, it confirms a lot of what we already know.
“It certainly does bring new information to light,” said Hennie van Vuuren, co-author of The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything. “For example, this is the very first time that I’ve heard about the Eiffel tower.”
Sooklal worked for Thales and its South Africa subsidiary Thint for six years, hired for his political connections and helping the company avoid corruption charges after it won a R2.6-billion contract in 1997 to fit four new navy frigates with combat suites.
But their relationship ended on a sour note, with Sooklal locked in an arbitration hearing with his former employer over what he claims are R70-million in outstanding fees.
Transcripts of his testimony in the hearings have become available, casting a new light on the relationship between Zuma and the company.
The ANC and the presidency’s reactions immediately after the story was published were instructive. Both bodies immediately put out various statements that emphasised two messages they are hoping will counter the impact of the story: That Sunday’s news was not new information and, even if it was, the allegations should be brought to the Seriti commission of inquiry – the process set up by Zuma in 2011 to look into allegations of fraud and corruption that have haunted the deal for much of South Africa’s democratic years.
While presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj said that the report contained “nothing new”, a sentiment repeated by the ANC on their official Twitter account and in interviews, Feinstein, who authored After the Party, said that two new pieces of information had come to light thanks to Sooklal’s testimony: that Zuma has indeed received payment from the company and that a €1-million cheque went to the ANC.
“Those two things are extremely important in terms of new information,” said Feinstein. “And unfortunately for the ANC all this additional news only confirms the information we already have.”
As for the second point the ANC and the presidency have made, that new allegations be brought to the Seriti commission, Feinstein and Van Vuuren laughed it off.
The two, together with Van Vuuren’s co-auther Paul Holden, have withdrawn from the commission, refusing to legitimise a process which they say “is [so] deeply compromised that its primary outcome will be to cover up”.
“We had to withdraw because it became clear to us that the process was compromised when senior people began resigning, claiming there was a second agenda,” said Feinstein.
In his letter of resignation in early 2013, Norman Moabi, a lawyer and former acting High Court judge, claimed that the commission was concealing a “second agenda”. He accused the chairperson of a “total obsession with the control of the flow of information”, hinting that the commission’s work was being guided by “unknown person[s]”.
In March 2013, attorney Kate Painting also resigned, later stating that “fear is a common theme at the commission and any non-compliance with the second agenda is met with hostility”.
Feinstein said it has become clear that the second agenda of the commission is a reality, noting that the commission’s chair had clearly not even read his submissions.
Then there is the mind-boggling decision by the commission that documents could only be admitted by their authors: meaning minutes of meetings where bribes were agreed upon are inadmissible if put forward by any of the campaigners and activists. “We’ve got to get the company secretary to state that is an accurate copy of the minutes of that meeting,” said Feinstein. “It’s absurd.”
Naturally no companies involved with the corrupt activities would be likely to confirm this before the commission.
Not that any of the companies involved in the deal have been called, said Van Vuuren.
“They have only called two people implicated in corruption – Fana Hlongwane and Chippy Shaik.”
This explains the brazen attitude of companies such as Thales, whose South African director Pierre Moynot confirmed to the Sunday Times that the company donated a hefty sum of about €1-million to the ANC and bankrolled Zuma while he was facing corruption charges as “he had no money at the time”. This included clothes, trips and legal fees.
Moynot was clear that about €1-million was given to the organisation and that there was nothing inappropriate about it. “A lot of companies want to have good relations with the ANC and give them money from time to time,” he said.
Van Vuuren said this was the first time Moynot had been this open. “I think if the reports are correct it does suggest brazeness on the part of Thales and Pierre Moynot: that they believe that the law does not apply to them and quite clearly they see the Seriti commission as no threat whatsoever. They believe that no investigative agency will properly prosecute and investigate them.”