Un­earthing a buried trail of lies

Mail & Guardian - - News - AmaBhun­gane

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

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