Ajay Sooklal returns to haunt Zuma

Sooklal’s allegation came after he detailed alleged bribes that were made to secure the arms deal and protection for French company Thales, and its subsidiaries (Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Sooklal’s allegation came after he detailed alleged bribes that were made to secure the arms deal and protection for French company Thales, and its subsidiaries (Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Ajay Sooklal, the lawyer who helped produce evidence implicating President Jacob Zuma in the 1999 arms deal, has made fresh allegations that during the deal, South African head of arms procurement Chippy Schaik was paid $1-million by Thales SA (Societe Anonyme) boss Pierre Moynot.

Sooklal made the allegation in a submission to a tribunal hearing on economic crimes in South Africa, taking place at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg. He said that Moynot told him on a number of occasions that he had made the payment to Schaik.

The tribunal is the first of its kind in South Africa, seeking to invite submissions on economic crimes during apartheid, the arms deal and state capture.
While the tribunal has no legal standing and is not binding, it aims to produce a report that will make recommendations in the interests of justice. The report will be compiled by the panel of five adjudicators which is headed by former justice Zak Yacoob.

Sooklal’s allegation came after he detailed alleged bribes that were made to secure the arms deal and protection for French company Thales, and its subsidiaries, from South African law enforcement authorities.

Sooklal had been identified by tribunal organisors, a group of non-government organisations,  as “Witness X”. His name was revealed today moments before his testimony.

He became known to the South African public in 2014 as the man who helped Thales arrange luxury accommodation in Europe, clothes, cash and legal fees for Zuma when he faced prosecution for the arms deal.

One infamous document that was unearthed during the investigation was the encrypted fax written by Alain Thetard, the Thales southern Africa head, to Yann de Jomaron, the Thales Africa managing director, in 2000.

In the fax, Thetard told de Jomaron of a meeting he had with Zuma, the deputy president at the time, where Thales offered a bribe of R500,000 per annum in exchange for Zuma’s political protection. Zuma would use the code word “Eiffel Tower” to accept the bribe.

Much of Sooklal’s submission had become public information during the Seriti Commission. In 2017, Sooklal also filed an affidavit at the Pretoria high court, detailing how Zuma asked him to keep quiet.

The affidavit states that Zuma did not want Sooklal, who was Thales’s lawyer for 6 years, to reveal that the French arms dealer had bribed him with a new wardrobe during the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and paid him €25 000 in cash on a trip to Brussels.

Sooklal, who was also a fixer for Thales, said that he had gained Moynot’s trust, which was how he came to hear of the bribe paid to Chippy Schaik.

“Mr Moynot had trusted me because he had done a long background check before he approached me in September 2003,” Sooklal said.

He added that Moynot knew he had been privy to various meetings with French and South African government officials during the arms deal.

Schaik told the Seriti Commission in 2014 that he had no decision making powers during the arms deal, and the final responsibility for the deal would rest with Cabinet and defense minister at the time Joe Modise.

Sooklal also repeated information contained in a court judgement in Switzerland where it was revealed that Thales had paid Schabir Schaik 1.2-million French francs in two separate payment to a Swiss bank account. Some of that money was then paid to Zarina Maharaj - Mac Maharaj’s wife.

Sooklal said the National Prosecuting Authority knew of this “bribe agreement” that implicated Schaik, Thales, and the Maharaj family, but chose not to act on it.

“The NPA does nothing when it is armed with documentary evidence directly implicating the French and Maharaj family,” Sooklal said.

He suggested that the tribunal make recommendations that financial conduct authorities abroad are questioned about why they did not pursue investigations in these matters.

Sooklal alleged in 2014 that Thales owed him R70-million in legal fees. His submission to the tribunal continues.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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