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Arms deal lawyer dishes more dirt

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The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has received new evidence to bolster its corruption case against former president Jacob Zuma and French arms company Thales.

An affidavit signed by Thales’ South African lawyer, Ajay Sooklal, deposed on July 7, contains further details around the alleged €1m donation Thales paid the ANC in exchange for dropping the charges against it in October 2004, leaving Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik to face the rap alone.

Sooklal also alleges former justice minister Penuell Maduna asked for “compensation” for his “services” in getting the charges dropped against the company, and was paid €50 000.

Sooklal is expected to testify in the corruption case for which Zuma and Thales will appear in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday. The case was postponed on June 8 to allow the state time to respond to Thales’ representations seeking to convince the prosecutors to withdraw charges.

In the affidavit handed to the Hawks’ lead investigator, Colonel Johan du Plooy, Sooklal alleges the company made a “thank you” payment to the ANC in April or May 2006 “for the withdrawal of the charges”.

“[Thales’ international head Jean-Paul] Perrier instructed [Thales South Africa’s boss Pierre] Moynot to facilitate a €1 000 000 donation to the African National Congress. This donation was made by cheque from a Dubai Bank, through the account of a ‘friend’ of the Thales Group,” the affidavit states.

“The cheque was made payable to a trust registered in South Africa, nominated by Mr [Mendi] Msimang, the then treasurer-general of the ANC, as the recipient of the donation.”

“Msimang, in my presence, received the cheque at his home in Pretoria,” Sooklal states.

Sooklal alleges that Maduna received €50 000 from the arms company in a London hotel in 2005, when he was no longer justice minister but a lawyer in private practice.

Sooklal alleges that in 2004, Maduna convinced the then national director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, to drop the charges against Thint – the name by which Thales’ South African business used to be known – and withdraw the arrest warrants against two of its bosses.

“Maduna requested me to convey to Moynot that he wished to be compensated for his services, as he was now a practising attorney, in a private practice. In September 2005 and in my presence, Moynot paid Maduna €50 000 in cash at the Radisson Hampshire hotel in London,” Sooklal claims.

Sooklal alleges that after Maduna received the cash payment, “Perrier arrived at the hotel and we all then proceeded to a conference room within the hotel, where Perrier thanked Maduna for his assistance”.

Maduna denied all Sooklal’s allegations, saying “as far as I’m concerned, this is yet another instance of a man who says a lot that has no basis in fact”.

“The question really is why it took him so long to make such a startling claim,” he said.

In the 17-page affidavit, Sooklal also alleges that he “interacted” a “great deal” with Zuma. He has previously alleged that he arranged for Thales to pay for Zuma’s air travel, fancy clothes, legal fees and hotels in Europe. Zuma has consistently denied these claims.

In the affidavit, Sooklal also claims that he tried to secure Moynot a meeting with Maduna and then defence minister Mosioua Lekota while former president Thabo Mbeki and a large delegation of ministers were on an official visit to India in 2003.

“Moynot urged me to facilitate a meeting between him and Maduna … I made contact with Maduna, who invited me over to his room,” he said, adding that they discussed the charges Shaik and Thint were facing.

Moynot was concerned about the possibility that the company could be prosecuted in the US in terms of its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Maduna’s reaction to Moynot’s request to meet with him “was that he was not prepared to meet ‘that rogue’”, the affidavit reads. But when Sooklal told Maduna and Lekota that Moynot “had two bottles of Blue Label whisky” – better that the Black Label they were enjoying – and offered to fetch them from Moynot, “both ministers … readily acceded thereto”.

“We subsequently went to the dining room for dinner. Moynot advised me that evening that he intended to go to the table where the minister of justice and minister of public enterprises were seated to greet the ministers, which he did,” he said.

In March 2004, Sooklal claims, he discussed the arms deal with Maduna, who suggested Thales’ lawyers write a letter requesting a meeting, which was “convened to discuss the withdrawal of charges” against the company and the withdrawal of arrest warrants against Perrier and Moynot’s predecessor, Alain Thetard.

“Minister Maduna said that the Thint/Thales companies were regarded by the South African government as making a useful contribution to the development and improvement of the South African economy and in furthering the government’s policy of black economic empowerment,” the affidavit states, adding that Maduna agreed that bad publicity from the Shaik trial would impact negatively on the company and he was prepared to recommend to Ngcuka that the charges and the arrest warrants be withdrawn.

Ngcuka then allegedly agreed, but only on condition that Thetard depose an affidavit confirming that he wrote the so-called encrypted fax – which contained details of Zuma’s attempt to secure a bribe from Thales.

Maduna said this week that Sooklal had previously “made many other statements … including a suggestion that I was even bribed with liquor in a hotel room in Mumbai, India, but has, to my knowledge, never before alluded to any cash payment made to me by any person”.

“I have absolutely no knowledge of any money that was allegedly paid, or donation made, to the ANC,” he said.

“I further deny that I ever asked anyone, and in particular Mr Sooklal, to help me get any compensation for any services for, in truth, I had rendered no services such as might have entitled me to any compensation whatsoever.

“I was never asked by any person to enquire from any person or official if Thint or any of its companies would be charged together with Mr Jacob Zuma in particular. Feel free to enquire from the NPA if I ever made any enquiries about the relevant matter in particular or, for that matter, any criminal matter under the sun.”

Thales group head of legal Christine Guerrier, who is representing the company in court, could not be reached for comment.

Pule Mabe, ANC spokesperson, did not respond to questions.

[source: News24]
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