There’s ‘no way’ there’ll be a fair trial, says Thales
Firm in Zuma case says a disappearing witness and one with Alzheimer's mean it cannot respond to evidence against it
A key witness in the corruption case against Jacob Zuma has disappeared while a second will not be able to testify because he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, the Pietermaritzburg High Court heard on Tuesday.
French arms company Thales, accused of bribing Zuma nearly two decades ago when he was deputy president, told the court there was “no way” it could receive a fair trial.
This was the second day of arguments around a permanent stay of prosecution. On Monday, Zuma’s lawyers argued that his rights had been compromised by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and that the case against him should not go ahead.
Advocate Anton Katz, who is one of the lawyers arguing Thales’ case, said Alain Thetard, the author of the notorious “encrypted fax” found by the Durban High Court to have constituted an agreement to bribe Zuma, had left the company in 2011 and could not be traced.
He added that Thetard, who the state says could also not be located by Interpol, had made it clear that he would never return to SA.
The NPA has said it withdrew charges against Thales in the Shaik case because Thetard promised to co-operate with its investigation, but later reneged on that deal.
It is the state’s case that Thales, in a deal brokered by Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik, agreed to pay Zuma a R500,000-a-year bribe to protect the company from any potential investigation into the R60bn arms deal.
The company had scored a R2.6bn contract to provide four navy frigates to SA’s government as part of that deal.
Thales SA, which formerly traded as Thomson-CSF, contends that it “has suffered significant and irreparable prejudice to its fair trial rights” as a direct result of the NPA’s delay in prosecuting it from 2009 to 2018.
Thales argues that the NPA was solely responsible for this nine-year delay, which was caused by then acting prosecuting head Mokotedi Mpshe’s unlawful decision to withdraw the corruption case against Zuma, which was later overturned in court.
It contends that it suffered such prejudice because it doesn’t have “access to any possible witnesses to assist it to prepare its defence or even determine whether it has a defence”.
Katz said that Pierre Moynot, who previously represented the company when it was charged alongside Zuma, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is not available to testify at the trial.
Thales claims that “all of the employees/officials who were involved in the relevant events are not in any way at all available to assist it in preparing for the criminal trial”.
This, it argues, has left it in a position where it cannot respond to the evidence against it, and doesn’t even know what it should plead to the charges against it.
Ajay Sooklal, who formerly worked as a lawyer for Thales and has confirmed that he is prepared to testify at any future trial, claims he “witnessed first hand Mr Pierre Moynot paying Mr Zuma various sums of money”.
He also claims Moynot personally settled Zuma’s hotel bills in Paris and Brussels on several occasions and “gave Mr Zuma cash money in Brussels, in London and in Paris”.
The judges hearing Thales and Zuma’s applications for permanent stays of their prosecution on Tuesday asked for further clarity about Moynot’s medical condition, and its impact on his ability to testify.The NPA has argued in court papers that Thales, as a corporate accused, has no “human dignity or personal reputation” and that its indictment has a “less serious effect on it than would have been the case if it were a natural person”. This is because, if convicted, Thales faces a fine and not jail time.Thales argues that this contention is not correct.“How could it ever be suggested that a corporate accused is not entitled to a fair trial? It could not.”The matter continues on Wednesday.