South Africa

South Africa

Zuma’s Day in Court: The witnesses on whom former president’s graft case depends

Zuma’s Day in Court: The witnesses on whom former president’s graft case depends

Two hundred and seven witnesses are on the state’s list to potentially testify against former President Jacob Zuma when he goes on trial for corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Not all will be called, and not all will provide make-or-break information to the court. From the 2005 corruption trial of Zuma’s benefactor Schabir Shaik, however, we have a sneak peek into the witnesses to keep an eye on. By REBECCA DAVIS.

What happens when state prosecutors decide they might need your help to put a former president behind bars?

Arms deal activist Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC MP, has first-hand experience.

I was contacted on 31 October last year and asked if I was still alive and to confirm my contact details,” Feinstein told Daily Maverick on Wednesday.

Feinstein is one of 207 names on the state’s list of potential witnesses testifying against former President Jacob Zuma. Not all the witnesses on the list will be called.

The prosecutors will choose carefully to ensure that the witnesses they call to the stand can help shape a damning and coherent narrative of a politician who abused his position in order to further the business interests of allies who, in turn, gave him money and paid his expenses.

The prosecutors will be mindful of one of Judge Hilary Squires’ criticisms of the state’s case in the Shaik matter: that of the more than 40 witnesses who testified, “not all of their contributions seemed to us to be discernibly relevant”.

Feinstein says he hopes that he will be called to testify, but is “not sure” that this will be the case. Yet his information could be significant: as one of the members of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), he was witness to Zuma’s “strange role” regarding a potential investigation into the arms deal.

[Zuma] initially privately encouraged me to continue the investigation while the rest of the ANC was telling me to shut it down, until mid-December 2000 when he suddenly cut off all contact and demanded the investigation be closed down,” Feinstein says.

He assumes that it is this aspect of the case that state prosecutors would be likely to question him on if he was called to testify. Feinstein has been given “no indication” of when he might be needed by the NPA.

Some of the other witnesses on the state’s list are unlikely to be summoned to testify, in the interests of time and money. One such name is Lynette Brink, a KwaZulu-Natal-based woman who reportedly worked at the school Zuma’s children attended and is now retired.

But other witnesses on the list are already known to possess critical pieces of the puzzle – because they testified in the 2005 corruption case of Schabir Shaik, and the strength of their evidence helped the state secure a conviction.

Here are some of the key witnesses to look out for:

David Wilson

Wilson was a businessman who worked for Malaysian company Renong Berhad, which was interested in the opportunity to develop Durban’s Point area in the mid-1990s. Wilson testified in the Shaik trial that Zuma asked for a meeting with him at Shaik’s apartment in February 1997, during which Zuma tried to convince Wilson that Renong Berhad should pick Shaik as their South African empowerment partner. Squires accepted Wilson’s affidavit as “the truth of the matter”, and concluded that the court could discern “no incentive to conceal or misrepresent the facts on his part”.

Bianca Singh

Singh was Shaik’s former secretary. Secretaries usually know where the bodies are buried (metaphorically speaking), and Singh proved no exception. During the Shaik trial she testified to various critical matters, including overhearing the Shaik brothers discussing a problem with their arms deal bid and resolving to contact Zuma immediately to resolve it. She also said that Shaik once told her that he did not mind being exploited by politicians, because he was exploiting them right back. Singh told the court how she was once asked by Shaik to bring Zuma R700 in cash at the airport. Judge Squires described her as “intelligent and perceptive”, and an impressive and credible witness.

Cecilia Bester

Bester was another former employee of Shaik. An accountant who worked for him at his company Nkobi holdings, she also produced evidence which helped convict Shaik. She testified to hearing Shaik speak about how useful Zuma’s political connections were to him, and also testified to the fact that Shaik would pay Zuma even when his business could not afford the hit, with other creditors snapping at the door.

Bester, wrote Squires, “markedly impressed us a witness. If she tended to wear her heart on her sleeve, at least it was a conspicuously honest one.”

He added: “Where she was contradicted by Shaik, we have not the slightest qualm in preferring her evidence as the truth of the matter.”

Eric Malengret

Malengret, who currently lives in Australia, was the builder originally contracted to construct the Nkandla residence – at least, the first iteration of the Nkandla residence, rather than the sprawling homestead it is today. Shaik met with Malengret to check out the cost of Zuma’s future residence, and was horrified to hear that Malengret had quoted R2.4-million to Zuma.

Does Zuma think money grows on trees?” he reportedly asked Malengret, presumably expecting that he would end up footing the bill.

Shaik subsequently told Malengret to stop work on Nkandla, but Zuma instructed Malengret to ignore his benefactor. Malengret was doubtless to regret taking the job, since he would end up fruitlessly waiting for payment from Zuma.

Vivian Reddy

Reddy is one of the better-known names on the state witness list, though his involvement in the case may be relatively limited compared to some others. Reddy served as unofficial financial adviser to Zuma, and lent the above-mentioned Malengret money to continue building Nkandla while the builder was waiting for payment from Zuma. Reddy also arranged Zuma’s Nkandla bond, and paid the bond instalments up to November 2004.

Gavin Woods

Woods is a former chair of Parliament’s Scopa. In this capacity he recommended that the Special Investigating Unit look into concerns around the arms deal. This prompted a hostile letter from Zuma to Woods – something Woods is likely to testify on. The letter advised Woods that the necessary SIU proclamation would not be issued. In the Shaik trial, Woods told the court that Zuma’s letter was more vitriolic than any other correspondence he had received from members of the executive in 11 years.

Susan Delique

The former secretary to French arms company Thales boss Alain Thetard testified in the Shaik matter that her former boss was “capable of devious deception”, to quote Judge Squires’ summary.

(Thetard, meanwhile, was characterised by the judge as “a demonstrably untruthful and dishonest person”.)

Delique will be critical to the Zuma case because she can testify about having typed up the infamous encrypted fax allegedly recording the bribe given to Zuma by the French arms dealers.

Judge Squires found her evidence in the Shaik trial “compelling”, but also noted:

She had always been reluctant to give evidence in this trial and at first had refused to do so.”

One cannot imagine that Delique will be thrilled at being summoned to testify yet again. DM

Photo: Andrew Feinstein at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering, Sandton Convention Centre, 23 November 2017 (Leila Dee Dougan/Daily Maverick)

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