De Lille tipped to be first witness in arms deal trial against Zuma and Thales
The first witness set to be called to the stand on Monday in the trial against former president Jacob Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales is current public works minister Patricia de Lille.
The case is being heard in the Pietermaritzburg high court in KwaZulu-Natal.
“This is a clear demonstration that it is all systems go for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as the state is ready to proceed with the trial,” said the NPA’s Sipho Ngwema.
“The NPA has done all the necessary preparations and all 217 of our witnesses are ready to testify.
“We have no doubt this is the moment the accused in this matter have always been looking forward to and are certain the accused will take this with both hands so they can account for what happened before a fair and transparent process,” he said.
The trial has been set down from May 17 to June 30.
Thales was accused of bribing Zuma two decades ago, when he was deputy president. The company is alleged to have conspired with Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik and his Nkobi Holdings to pay Zuma R500,000 a year as a bribe in exchange for protection during an investigation linked to the arms deal.
In a 2004 expose, the Sunday Times also revealed how Thales fixer Ajay Sooklal allegedly arranged flights, fancy clothes, legal fees and lavish hotel stays in Europe for Zuma when he faced corruption charges linked to the arms deal.
De Lille was a whistle-blower in the alleged corruption that unfolded in the multibillion-rand 1999 arms deal and had back then called for parliament to investigate her claims.
In 2011, Zuma set up a commission to investigate the allegations of fraud and corruption in the military.
After a four-year inquiry, the commission, chaired by supreme court of appeal judge Willie Seriti, said it found no evidence of corruption in the controversial multibillion-rand procurement package.
These findings, however, were set aside by the Pretoria high court. It said the commission ignored essential information before finding there was no evidence of corruption, improper influence, or fraud in the arms deal, estimated to have cost up to R60bn.
Last week, the Judicial Conduct Committee announced it would meet on June 12 to recommend whether a complaint against two judges who were appointed to the arms deal commission should be investigated and reported on by the Judicial Conduct Tribunal.
Thales has pulled all the strings to be removed as an accused in the trial, even applying for a permanent stay of prosecution. It argued it had no knowledge of any transgressions having been committed by any of its employees in relation to the awarding of the contract for the combat systems for SA’s corvettes (the arms deal in 1999). In January, the court dismissed their application and ruled they would have to face the charges.
Zuma has expressed frustration about the lengthy delays bringing the matter to trial.
In a strongly worded statement in February issued through the Jacob G Zuma Foundation, he said he had hoped there would be no further delays from May 17, when the trial is due to begin.
However, there could be a spanner thrown in the works during Monday’s proceedings which could possibly lead to a delay.
This after lawyers acting for Zuma filed a formal notice of withdrawal in the Pietermaritzburg high court last month. Eric Mabuza filed the notice as Zuma’s attorney of record but did not provide reasons for the withdrawal. It was not immediately clear whether Zuma had secured a new legal team.