Unearthing a buried trail of lies
n November 18 2011, the front page blared a headline across a photo of then presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj: “Censored. We cannot bring you this story in full due to a threat of criminal prosecution.”
Six years later, following a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling, we can bring you that story, edited for space and the passage of time.
Essentially, it revealed that Maharaj lied during what is known as a section 28 inquiry.
Maharaj was questioned in 2003 by the Scorpions in the course of an investigation into whether he had received bribes from businessperson Schabir Shaik, later convicted of making corrupt payments to Jacob Zuma when he was deputy president.
Section 28 interrogations take Documents seen by the Mail & Guardian have reopened questions regarding an investigation by the now-defunct Scorpions of presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj.
The documents include details of Maharaj’s evidence when questioned by the Scorpions in 2003 about a series of payments he received from Schabir Shaik.
They suggest Maharaj lied repeatedly about benefits obtained from Shaik — most notably two payments of 600000 French francs (totalling roughly R1-million at the time) laundered through a Swiss bank account held by Shaik.
In 2003, before the existence of the French payments was known, Maharaj and his wife Zarina formally denied receiving any foreign payments from or through Shaik and did not disclose the existence of the Swiss bank account through which Zarina received the payments.
Circumstantial factors suggest the money came from Shaik’s French partner, defence company ThomsonCSF, now renamed Thales.
Shaik was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, partly for his role in an agreement by Thales to pay Jacob Zuma to secure the then deputy president’s protection and support. Shaik was later released on “medical parole”.
Thales had an interest in several projects under the department of transport, of which Maharaj was then the minister, but no evidence emerged that Maharaj had played a role in the awarding of contracts.
These included the barcode card driver’s licence contract awarded to Prodiba, in which Thales and Shaik’s Nkobi Group each had a 33% share.
The timing of the French payments via Switzerland is highly suggestive that they related to the driver’s licence tender.
The first, on October 11 1996, was made just seven days after the formal awarding of the contract. The second payment, on March 11 1997, took place less than two weeks after the transport department and the consortium involving Thales and Shaik’s company signed the contract.
The flow of funds was detailed in a December 2004 document from the Swiss district attorney’s office, delivered in response to a Scorpions request for foreign judicial assistance (see “Big Mac’s big whoppers unwrapped”).
The M&G has also seen details of other benefits paid by Shaik totalling about R400 000, which the Scorpions did not reasonably believe was possibly all that had been received in payment for consulting work done for Shaik by Zarina — as she and Mac had claimed.
The NPA was also aware of evidence showing that Shaik’s company picked up the tab for a Maharaj family holiday in Walt Disney World, as well as payments to a Maharaj family trust, the Milsek Trust.
The Disney trip and Milsek payments were revealed by the Sunday Times in 2003, leading to an investigation by FirstRand, where Maharaj had been a director since he left the Cabinet in 1999.
The bank could find no evidence of corruption, but Maharaj resigned.
When Maharaj became aware of the Swiss information, he launched applications in early 2007 in South Africa and Switzerland to challenge the disclosure of the Swiss banking information to the Scorpions. It is not clear what happened to the cases. By the end of 2007, Zuma had defeated Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane and the Scorpions were on the back foot.
Responding to questions this week, the National Prosecuting Authority said: “As far as our prosecutors who were involved in the matter [are concerned], the matter was closed at the time advocate Mokotedi Mpshe was acting NPA head and they are not aware of any other investigation.”
Maharaj was sent detailed questions, but merely raised issues around the source of the M&G investigation.
He noted: “With reference to your reliance on the record of the inquiry held in terms of section 28 of the National Prosecuting Authority Act, kindly advise from whom, when and under what circumstances you obtained the said record.”
Spin this: Evidence suggests that Mac Maharaj received bribes from Schabir Shaik. Photo: Madelene Cronjé