Thales takes swipe at prosecutions authority

Zuma's co-accused Thales has requested for it's involvement in the case to be stayed
Zuma's co-accused Thales has requested for it's involvement in the case to be stayed
Image: Motshwari Mofokeng

French arms company Thales – accused of bribing then deputy president Jacob Zuma for his “political protection” for any potential investigation into the Arms Deal – has slammed former prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams for being “hellbent” on charging it with Zuma.

Thales is asking the Pietermaritzburg high court to order that Abrahams’ decision “to reinstitute the criminal prosecution [of Thales] … is inconsistent with the constitution and invalid” and must be reviewed and set aside.

It contends that Abrahams had no lawful power to reinstate the case against it and further wants the corruption case against it permanently stayed. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) however argues that “Thales’ application for judicial review of Mr Abrahams’ decision to reinstitute the prosecution against it must fail because his decision was rational and lawful”.

Thales contends the NPA is responsible for a decade-long delay in the case against it, because then acting NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe made an “unlawful decision” to withdraw charges against Zuma in 2009 – and the NPA chose to fight the DA’s legal challenge to that decision all the way to the appeal court.

“Because of the delay, Thales South Africa has and will suffer significant trial prejudice. It will not be able to mount any defence against the state’s case if the prosecution is to proceed,” Thales advocate Anton Katz argues in papers before the court.

“Potential witnesses have either moved on, will not return to South Africa to testify or have become unable to do so due to ill health. Furthermore, memories have faded, and Thales South Africa no longer has access to many documents and other records that might have assisted it in its defence.”

The NPA, meanwhile, maintains that Thales escaped being prosecuted with Zuma’s former financial advisor Schabir Shaik in 2003 through “trickery”, and is – like Zuma – responsible for the delays in the prosecution against it.  The NPA says it decided not to prosecute Thales with Shaik after the company promised to cooperate with its investigation, but says Thales later reneged on that promise.

“As for Thales, it initially escaped prosecution by misleading the National Prosecuting Authority about its willingness to cooperate in the prosecution of Mr Shaik who was accused of having bribed Mr Zuma. After having escaped their initial prosecution by trickery, Thales rode on Mr Zuma’s coat-tails to avoid prosecution. It too has been successful in doing so thus far.”

Thales has hit back at the state for that argument, which it says is an attempt to deflect blame for the delays it insists were caused by the prosecution. It maintains that the NPA “have provided no other independent reason as to why the NDPP [national director of public prosecutions] took almost a decade to make the decision to reinstitute the prosecution” against it.“Nor have [the National Prosecuting Authority, national director of public prosecutions or the director of public prosecutions KwaZulu-Natal] provided any evidence of special circumstances which justify the NDPP’s decision.”

Thales argues that the NPA is treating it “as an add-on to the prosecution of Mr Zuma”. Thales, then known as Thompson-CSF, in 1997 scored a R2.6bn contract to provide four navy frigates to the government, as part of the wider R60bn arms deal. As corruption rumours grew, it is the state’s case that Thales agreed in 2002 to pay R500,000 a year to Zuma as a sort of insurance policy that it would be protected for any investigation into the deal – an arrangement that was allegedly brokered by Zuma’s former financial advisor Schabir Shaik.

In his criminal trial, it emerged that Shaik had paid R888,527 to Zuma over the years in various ways – repairing his cars, paying school fees for his children, paying his bond, buying him clothes and even giving him R15,000 in Christmas spending money in 1997. As a quid-pro-quo, prosecutors said, Zuma tried to help Shaik’s prospective business partners – including Thales, which had picked Shaik’s company Nkobi as its black empowerment partner.The hearing continues.

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