French defence and security company Thales is looking to obtain a permanent stay of prosecution with regard to the corruption case concerning Thales and former president Jacob Zuma.
The Pietermaritzburg High Court is until Thursday hearing arguments by Thales and Zuma, with Zuma facing 16 charges including fraud, racketeering and corruption linked to the 1999 arms deal. Thales has been accused of conspiring with Schabir Shaik, Zuma’s former financial adviser, to pay Zuma half a million Rand a year in exchange for protection during an investigation linked to the arms deal. Whilst Shaik was convicted on corruption charges in June 2005, Zuma was not charged along with him. Shaik allegedly handled 783 payments to Zuma worth around R4 million.
Thales applied for a permanent stay of prosecution in November last year, with the matter being heard this week. In a statement issued on Sunday, Thales said “bearing in mind the very long delay of this procedure – through no fault of Thales at all – together with a range of factors beyond its control, Thales believes it cannot obtain a fair trial as it is entitled to under the South African constitution and international law.
“Thales reiterates that it has no knowledge of any transgressions having been committed by any of its employees in relation to the awarding of the contract for the combat systems for SA’s corvettes (the Arms Deal in 1999).
“Thales respects the law, has a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and has co-operated fully with the local authorities at all times, and will continue to do so.”
Thales lawyer Anton Katz on Monday said prosecutorial misconduct would be one of the defences it would use in arguing for a stay of prosecution. Charges against Thales were withdrawn in 2009 before Zuma became president. Katz said that the conduct of former National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams when charging Thales was unconstitutional.
Today, Thales asked the Pietermaritzburg high court to order that Abrahams’ decision “to [re]institute the criminal prosecution [of Thales] … is inconsistent with the constitution and invalid” and should be set aside.
One of Zuma’s lawyers, Muzi Sikhakhane, said there were exceptional and extraordinary circumstances relating to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which he said was guilty of misconduct when dealing with Zuma.
In the ‘spy tapes’ phone recordings, then National Director for Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy are heard discussing the timing for prosecuting Zuma in order to boost the chances of Thabo Mbeki winning re-election. Sikhakhane said this was an “extraordinary” violation.
“Suppose we know that he may well have done what we suspect he did. Does he get stripped of human dignity, is there a reason to deal with him in a particular way because he is Mr Zuma?” Sikhakhane said in his opening address on Monday.
“Zuma was denied the opportunity to challenge evidence that implicated and prejudiced him,” the lawyer added.
He accused prosecutors of being biased against the former president, who was ousted by the ruling party in February 2018 after nine years in power marked by graft allegations and economic stagnation that led to credit rating downgrades.
The charges against Zuma were originally filed more than a decade ago but the NPA set them aside shortly before he successfully ran for president in 2009.
After his election, his opponents fought a lengthy legal battle to have the charges reinstated, finally succeeding in 2016. Zuma countered with his own legal challenges.