Letter of the law: Zuma lawyers launch fight-back strategy for corruption trial involving arms deal
Jacob Zuma has pleaded not guilty to all corruption charges related to the arms deal and believes he will be absolved
Former president Jacob Zuma has launched his fight-back strategy, apparently asking the ANC and the Nelson Mandela Foundation to give him arms deal documents that, he says, will shore up his defence in his upcoming corruption trial.
Zuma is facing corruption charges relating to the 1999 arms deal involving French company Thales. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
In two letters, one to the ruling party and one believed to be to the foundation, Zuma’s lawyers, Vryheid-based BM Thusini Attorneys, have requested a tranche of documents related to arms deal procurement in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
A senior ANC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the party had received the letter and sent it to their lawyers. However, the official said the party did not have the requested documents in its possession.
Sunday Times Daily has reached out to the Nelson Mandela Foundation for comment, but CEO Sello Hatang said he was only aware of the first page of the letter after seeing it on social media. Thusini would not confirm the letters. He asked to be contacted later on Wednesday night or Thursday morning. This story will be updated as these responses are received.
Spokesperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation Mzwanele Manyi would only say: “We sent letters to prominent organisations and foundations that benefited from the arms deal”.
He said he was not at liberty to disclose details of those foundations and organisations.
Manyi said while he has not seen the content of the letters, he could confirm that the law firm [BM Thusini] were Zuma’s lawyers.
He must extricate himself from the narrative entrenched both in the ANC and outside, that he was involved in the corruption that involved the procurement of arms in the so-called arms deal.Jacob Zuma's lawyers
In the letter, seen by Sunday Times Daily, addressed to the Nelson Mandela Foundation chair Prof Njabulo Ndebele, the lawyers state that it is not Zuma’s intention to “embroil the name of former president Nelson Mandela and his foundation in his legal challenges”. However, it was “unavoidable” that the requested evidence of what went wrong during the Strategic Defence Procurement Package be “fully explored in his criminal case, which will entail evidence that our client [Zuma] was not the beneficiary at all of the arms procurement”.
The letter reads: “We intend to demonstrate that he [Zuma] was not involved at all in the arms procurement process at any level but has become aware, from information now in the public domain, of who was involved in the critical decisions and that not one successful bidder would have had any reason to offer him financial incentives.”
The letter to the foundation is dated July 21.
“Our client is acutely aware that this letter may cause extreme anxiety, and to protect the name of our national hero, former president Dr Nelson Mandela, from the unkind publicity of [his] criminal trial on the allegations of corruption, attract a robust dismissal of this request as another stratagem to use the former president’s name in a desperate bid to avoid answering the allegations. That of course will be unfortunate as it would amount to a misreading of our client's intentions.
“Our client intends to defend himself from allegations that he used his government and party position to offer protection to certain contractors in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package from law enforcement investigations. In doing so, he must set out the evidence of that process, which will includes showing who was involved and at what level. He intends to demonstrate that the procurement process was tightly controlled to allowed a person in his position to have any influence of whatever nature ,” the letter reads.
They want the foundation to provide them with:
- A list of all and any foreign payments received from any German-based defence industry companies associated with the Strategic Defence Packages during the 1997/1998 and 1999/2000 financial years;
- A list of all and any foreign payments received from any French-based defence industry companies associated with the Strategic Defence Packages during the 1997/1998 and 1999/2000 financial years;
- A list of all and any local or foreign payments received from any companies representing or making payment on behalf of Thomson CSF France and/or Thint SA [France] and/or African Defence Systems during the 1997/1998, 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 financial years;
- A list of all and any payments received from Yusuf Surtee [known as “the tailor” and/or any companies associated with Yusuf Surtee and/or any of Yusuf Surtee immediate family members during the 1997/1998, 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 financial years];
- A list of all and any payments received from a Mr Tony Georgiadis [a Greek citizen living in London] and/or a Mr C Hoenings, a German citizen during the 1997/1998, 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 financial years; and
- A list of all and any payments received from Dr Bill Venter and/or Dr Bill Venter’s family members and/or the Alton Group of Companies and/or Altech Defence System during the 1997/1998, 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 financial years.
Zuma wants similar information from the ANC.
Zuma’s lawyers said they were addressing their request to the foundation as the entity that was “entirely responsible” for the Strategic Defence Procurement Package, which involved the procurement of strategic arms in early 1998.
They said the preferred bidders of the historic Strategic Defence Procurement Package were approved by cabinet on November 18, 1998, and the then deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, was also the chairperson of the cabinet subcommittee overseeing the tender adjudication process, undertaken by Armscor on behalf of government departments.
Also, recordings of cabinet meetings of October and November 1998 on the matter reflected that former president Nelson Mandela presided over these cabinet meetings, they said.
“To properly advance his [Zuma’s] defence, we have advised him to obtain relevant information that he is aware is within the custody or knowledge of Armscor, which is relevant to the defence that he was not a beneficiary of any financial rewards arising from his various roles while serving the government and the ANC,” the lawyers write.
The lawyers said evidence submitted to the now annulled Seriti commission, in effect, implicated Mandela and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
They cite documentary evidence presented by Col Johan du Plooy and Richard Young related to investigations conducted by the German public prosecution office and SA’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), as having revealed that the Nelson Mandela Foundation may have received payments and/or donations from German and French companies or consortia that were appointed by the SA government after the awarding of the four Corvette ship contract by the SA government to the German Corvette Consortium.
“The aforesaid evidence also stated that the NPA also uncovered documentary evidence that suggests that Dr Nelson Mandela may have had a direct role in influencing decisions over the selecting some of the successful contractors and subcontractors to the Strategic Defence Procurement Package,” the lawyers write.
In a separate letter addressed to the ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile, dated July 22, Zuma’s lawyers again refer to Du Plooy and Young’s evidence to the Seriti commission, saying it did not only implicate Mandela and Mbeki but also the ANC.
The lawyers argued that German-based investigations revealed that the ANC received a significant financial donation from the German Corvette shipbuilders just after the awarding of the four Corvette ship contracts by the SA government.
They also cited an affidavit by advocate Ajay Sooklal, who was a legal counsel for Thint SA, in which he alleged that the ANC received further financial donations from Thint SA or parties acting on its behalf in order for the NPA not to bring charges of corruption.
The lawyers said, while Zuma was acutely aware that the disclosure of these facts and the request for information would be used as political propaganda against the ANC, he believed it was unavoidable to prove to the courts the true financial beneficiaries of the transactions in the Strategic Defence Procurement packages did not involve him.
“He must extricate himself from the narrative entrenched both in the ANC and outside, that he was involved in the corruption that involved the procurement of arms in the so-called arms deal,” the letter to the ANC reads.
The senior ANC official said: “Yes, we have received the letter. We looked at it and the decided to send it to our attorneys to liaise with the Zuma’s lawyers.”
He said that officials looked for the documents in the organisation, “but we can’t locate those documents”.
“They may have existed, but the organisation does not keep things forever. We currently cannot locate those documents,” the official said.