05/02/2018 12:54 SAST | Updated 05/02/2018 20:07 SAST

Explosive Testimony Pins Zuma, ANC, French Presidents In Arms Deal Bribes

Ajay Sooklal is presenting evidence on arms deal corruption at the People's Tribunal on Economic Crime.

President Jacob Zuma.
Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma.

Earlier presented only as 'Witness X', Ajay Sooklal was delivering explosive testimony at the People's Tribunal during sessions on the arms deal corruption on Monday afternoon.

Sooklal, an attorney who had a close relationship with people involved in the arms deal and in the upper echelons of the ANC, has made allegations placing ANC bigwigs and corporate bosses at the centre of alleged arms deal corruption.

The allegations relate to the involvement of Thales, formerly Thompson-CSF, a French arms manufacturer and notorious sanctions-buster at the centre of the arms deal and linked allegations of corruption against President Jacob Zuma.

Parts of Sooklal's submission had already entered the public domain during the Seriti Commission on the arms deal, but new allegations did surface including the claim that a USD $1-million payment had been made to former SANDF arms procurement head Chippy Shaik.

Among the broader allegations were that there had been numerous attempts by French officials to quash the investigation into Thales by the National Prosecuting Authority. This included a direct request by then president of France, Jacques Chirac, to then president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, he said.

Thales is alleged to have committed bribes of R500,000 per year to then deputy president Jacob Zuma to protect Thales in the arms deal probe. Sooklal says following this promise to Zuma, the NPA landed up withdrawing the charges.

Thales is also alleged to have 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.

He also testified that 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.

Following the initial part of his testimony, Sooklal was grilled by panel chair Zac Yacoob as to the moment in which he "realised Zuma was a corrupt man". Yacoob, however, did not elicit clear answers from 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.

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

Earlier, Yacoob said Sooklal could not appear before the Tribunal and expect to protect himself as someone who may have been complicit in the crimes to which he is testifying.

Yacoob said "inconsistencies and difficulties" in the inquiry could not be dismissed simply out of sympathy for a whistleblower. He added the whistleblower could not be allowed to protect him or herself in the process of whistleblowing otherwise it would affect the credibility of the whistleblower.

Nevertheless, the former Constitutional Court Justice in his capacity as panel chair ultimately said if Sooklal chose not to answer questions, the panel would respect his decision. Sooklal after extensive deliberation opted to leave.

The hearings continue on Tuesday.