'I'm ready to testify': Arms deal lawyer to tell all on Zuma

Sooklal says he saw French businessman hand over $25,000

25 March 2018 - 00:01 By KARYN MAUGHAN
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Ajay Sooklal, left, follows behind Jacob Zuma and Indian diamond tycoon Ashit Mehta.
Ajay Sooklal, left, follows behind Jacob Zuma and Indian diamond tycoon Ashit Mehta.

Ajay Sooklal, an attorney who was an adviser to French arms company Thint, said he had evidence of the company's corrupt relationship with Jacob Zuma.

He said he was a witness to Zuma asking a top Thint official to pay for a court application in Mauritius.

Zuma had turned to the Mauritian Supreme Court to prevent the Scorpions from obtaining documents that were crucial in the corruption case against him.

"I'm the only person who can give direct and truthful evidence about what really happened [between Thint and Zuma]. I'm ready to testify," Sooklal told the Sunday Times this week.

"There is no lawful explanation for these payments," Sooklal said.

He said he also planned to testify at the Zondo commission because he believed Thint's alleged corruption of Zuma was "the beginning of state capture".

Zuma's lawyer, Michael Hulley, said Sooklal's claims were lies and last month former Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yacoob questioned Sooklal's honesty.

Sooklal said he had met Hawks investigators about his evidence.

"The Hawks want my testimony about payments made from 1996 to August 2005," Sooklal said.

Sooklal began representing Thint/Thales in 2003. He has given evidence about how Thint paid Zuma's Mauritian court bills through a Mozambican politician, Jacinto Veloso.

The evidence Zuma hoped the Mauritian court would suppress included the "encrypted fax".

During the corruption trial of Zuma's former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, the fax was found to have documented a bribe agreement between Thint and Zuma. In it, Zuma, then deputy president, was promised an annual payment of R500000 in exchange for his "protection" for the company from arms deal investigations.

The fax is a crucial part of the state's racketeering case against Zuma and Thint. The state believes it can bolster its evidence that Zuma and Thint knowingly entered into a continuous, corrupt deal.

Zuma's Mauritian case centred on his conspiracy claims against then president Thabo Mbeki, who fired him after Shaik's conviction.

"I verily believe that my prosecution has, from inception, been politically motivated as a result of the political beliefs and principles, which I hold dear and which some of my political adversaries seek to negate by denying me the right to occupy important political office," Zuma stated under oath months after defeating Mbeki in the ANC presidential election of 2007.

Serve as middleman

Sooklal told the Sunday Times that Zuma asked then Thales executive director Pierre Moynot "in my presence to make representations to [Thales] to pay for his legal fees in Mauritius. Thereafter permission was granted by [Thales International CEO Jean-Paul] Perrier".

Sooklal said he gave Hulley Veloso's business card, with the understanding he would serve as a middleman. After a meeting between Hulley and a local advocate representing Zuma in Mauritius, "Veloso paid the advocate's fees". But Hulley said Thint had never given Zuma legal funding.

"I categorically deny that Sooklal, Thint or any person associated with them have ever assisted in the payment of fees or associated expenses relating to Mr Zuma's legal costs," Hulley said.

Sooklal was adamant that Thint continued to support Zuma, even after the company had been charged with him for corruption, "as it was anticipated by the Thales Group that [Zuma] would become the next president of the [ANC]".

"[Zuma] was continuously and regularly funded by the Thales Group for this reason. I was privy to numerous occasions where [Zuma] was funded in cash."

Sooklal denied that his claims about the payments amounted to a confession and that he was complicit in corruption.

"All the payments were made from June 2005 to 2007, when Zuma was out of government. So no corrupt payments were made. All payments were made by Moynot in this period and not by me," he said.

During Sooklal's testimony in February to a tribunal on economic crimes, Yacoob asked the lawyer when he had become aware that Zuma might be corrupt. When Sooklal answered "2008", Yacoob was seemingly unconvinced and began to cross-examine intensely. Sooklal said he was unprepared for this, and exited as a witness.

Sooklal gave the Sunday Times documents, which he said showed that Thint paid the travel expenses for Zuma and his secretary to France and Brussels while the company and Zuma, soon to become president of the ANC, were facing charges of being embroiled in a corrupt deal. He said he saw Moynot give Zuma $25000 in cash.

Sooklal claimed Zuma summoned him on August 13 2012 to ask him not to testify about these payments to the Seriti Commission that investigated the arms deal. He agreed but is now trying to have the commission reopen to include his testimony.

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