05/02/2018 20:03 SAST | Updated 05/02/2018 20:49 SAST

Zuma And The Thales Of Arms Deal Graft: These Are Witness X's Allegations

The lawyer who once represented the French arms company, however, was reluctant to answer questions about his own alleged complicity in arms deal corruption.

Marc Davies

Attorney Ajay Sooklal, who formerly represented French arms manufacturer Thales, presented new allegations of arms deal graft in his testimony before a panel at the People's Tribunal on Economic Crime on Monday.

The attorney, who had a close relationship with people involved in the arms deal and in the upper echelons of the ANC, gave testimony on alleged bribes used to secure the arms deal and, in particular, to protect its instigators from facing legal repercussions.

The allegations relate broadly to the involvement of Thales, formerly Thompson-CSF, a French arms manufacturer and notorious sanctions-buster, in the arms deal, and its links to then Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

These were the allegations Sooklal put forward during the Tribunal, some of which were already in the public domain:

  • Shamim "Chippy" Shaik, the South African National Defence Force chief of acquisitions at the time, was allegedly paid USD 1-million by Thales SA (Societe Anonyme) head Pierre Moynot. At the Seriti Commission of Inquiry in 2014, Shaik said he had no decision-making authority in the multibillion-rand arms procurement deal in 1999.
  • Sooklal restated the contents of an encrypted fax in 2000 in which Alain Thetard (Thales' southern Africa boss) wrote to Yann de Jomaron (African managing director), telling of a meeting with Zuma in which Thales offered the then-deputy president a R500,000 per annum bribe to protect the company in the Arms Deal probe.

During the Tribunal, a picture of the previously unseen Alain Thetard -- who allegedly offered the bribe using the secret code "Eiffel Tower" -- was put on display.

  • Then president of France Jacques Chirac asked the South African head of state, Thabo Mbeki, to "bring forces to bear" stop the NPA investigating Thales' role in the arms deal. This allegedly occurred at a state dinner in Paris. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was also alleged to have implored Zuma to stop probes into the deal.
  • Sooklal said Thales paid for Zuma's legal costs in matters relating to the Arms Deal that played out in Mauritius supreme court.
  • Thales allegedly made a 1-million-Euro "donation" to the ANC ahead of the 2006 elections, the payment of which was made to then ANC treasurer-general Mendi Msimang.
  • Former financial adviser to Jacob Zuma, Schabir Shaik, received money from Thales via a Swiss bank account, some of which was transferred to Mac Maharaj and his wife Zarina who then transferred these funds to a bank account in the Isle of Man. This information was contained in an earlier court judgment in Switzerland which Sooklal said was provided to the NPA but not acted upon.
  • Zuma in August 2012 allegedly called Sooklal to the presidential residence in Pretoria, asking him not to testify at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry about Thales' payments to Zuma.

Following the initial section his testimony, Sooklal was grilled by panel chair Zac Yacoob as to when he knew or realised Zuma was a "corrupt man". Yacoob, however, demonstrated some frustration with Sooklal who repeatedly insisted the questions asked were not relevant or did not apply to him.

Yacoob continued in his attempt to elicit clear answers, offering Sooklal the opportunity to adjourn so he could gather his thoughts and "bear his soul to the public".

Evidently uncomfortable with the line of questioning, Sooklal ultimately chose to withdraw as a witness from the Tribunal.

Sooklal in 2014 alleged that Thales owed him R70-million in legal fees. The company in1997 won a R2.6bn stake in South Africa's R60bn highly controversial arms program, later subject to investigation in the Seriti Commission. The Commission found no evidence of corruption.

The People's Tribunal on Economic Crime -- which has invited submissions on economic crimes that have taken place in South Africa over the last 40 years -- continues at Constitution Hill on Tuesday. The Tribunal has no legal standing, but aims to produce a report in the interests of 'truth-telling' and potential further recourse.