Pietermaritzburg – French arms manufacturer Thales is set to hear on Friday whether the corruption charges against it in the long-running Arms Deal case will be set aside.
In October last year, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) argued that it had charged Thales with racketeering because the company knowingly participated in a scheme of bribing former president Jacob Zuma in return for his influence and political protection.
This was the main point of the argument of the prosecuting body before the Pietermaritzburg High Court, where Thales, who is a co-accused in the Zuma corruption trial, was heard.
Racketeering is when individuals engage in organised crime and try to cover their tracks using legitimate companies and payment systems.
The French arms company is being represented by Advocate Barry Roux.
The matter was heard before a full bench of the court, consisting of Judge Mahendra Chetty, Judge Antony Van Zyl and Alsa Bezuidenhout.
In October, Trengove told the full bench that at some point Thales paid a bribe to Zuma via Nkobi holdings, a company owned by convicted Durban businessman Schabir Shaik and “dressed up” as a “service fee”. But to protect itself, it kept a distance and utilised its proxy, Shaik.
Nkobi was Thales’ black economic empowerment partner during the country’s multibillion-rand procurement of arms in the late 1990s. The court heard that Thales entered into a partnership with Nkobi because it believed that the company had the right political connections in the ruling party and the connection was Zuma, who brought in “political capital”.
Trengove told the court that Zuma once attended a meeting in London in November 1998 to meet Thales executives and the aim was to persuade them that Shaik’s Nkobi was the right local company to partner with.
It is alleged that Shaik revelled in the fact that he could use his political connections and bring Zuma to a meeting to plead his case. Eventually, the deal was clinched, and Thales had to partner with Nkobi.
Trengove further told the court that their case against Thales was reliant on circumstantial evidence. One piece of the evidence is the now-infamous “encrypted fax” sent in 2000 by Nkobi Holdings to Thales negotiating a R500 000 annual bribe to Zuma.
“They knew at the time that Mr Shaik was bribing Mr Zuma and what they did … was to join in that project of bribing Mr Zuma and the (Durban) high court found that to be so,” Trengove argued on behalf of the State.
According to Trengove, Shaik “had Zuma in his pockets” to such an extent that over a period of 10 years, he bribed him 783 times. However, he did not specify the amounts of money or favours that were advanced to Zuma in all these instances.
“When they joined in (Thales), they agreed to pay Mr Zuma those bribes… They realised that they were buying influence (of Zuma),” Trengove further argued.
In his closing argument on behalf of Thales, Roux pleaded with the full bench to carefully listen to his client’s argument that while they were in partnership with Shaik’s companies, they did not know that there were dealings with Zuma.
“If there is a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Zuma… is there a corruption because of racketeering, a racket or because of plain corruption because there was a big promise of payment? Which one?” asked Roux.
The case against Zuma has been postponed until February 23.