Shaun Abrahams was 'hellbent' on charging us, says French arms firm

21 May 2019 - 12:45 By Karyn Maughan
Former president Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where a second day of argument for a stay of prosecution continued on May 21 2019.
Former president Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where a second day of argument for a stay of prosecution continued on May 21 2019.
Image: Jackie Clausen / Pool

French arms company Thales – accused of bribing then deputy president Jacob Zuma for his "political protection" against investigations into the arms deal – has slammed former prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams for being "hellbent" on charging them with Zuma.

Thales asked the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday to order that Abrahams' decision "to [re]institute 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 the company and further wants the corruption case against it permanently stayed.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), however, argues that Thales' application for judicial review of 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 SA 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 SA to testify or have become unable to do so due to ill health. Furthermore, memories have faded, and Thales SA 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 adviser 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 co-operate with its investigation, but says Thales later reneged on that promise.

"As for Thales, it initially escaped prosecution by misleading the NPA about its willingness to co-operate 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 attempted to deflect blame for the delays it insists were caused by the prosecution.

It maintains that the NPA "has 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 NPA, NDPP 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, scored a R2.6bn contract in 1997 to provide four navy frigates to SA's 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 form of insurance policy that it would be protected from investigation into the deal – an arrangement that was allegedly brokered by 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 house bond, buying him clothes and even giving him R15,000 spending money in Christmas 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.