Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS
Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

The French arms company accused of bribing former president Jacob Zuma argues that the National Prosecuting Authority has violated its rights to a fair trial, and wants a court to rule that the state’s order to reinstate corruption charges against it is unlawful. 

Thales vice-president of dispute resolution Christine Guerrier, however, emphasises in papers before the  high court in Durban that “in this application Thales does not adduce evidence and/or advance argument as regards its guilt or innocence in respect of the charges”. 

“Thales’s trial prejudice arises, inter alia, as a consequence of the long history of the matter, and the fact that its principal employees/officials involved in the events underpinning the charges are not available to provide it with instructions or are available to assist it in presenting its defence at trial”. 

Thales was formerly known as Thompson-CSF and scored a R2.6bn contract to provide four navy frigates to SA’s government as part of the wider R60bn arms deal in the late 1990s.

The state claims Thales agreed in 2002 to pay R500,000 to Zuma, then deputy president, for his “political protection” in any investigation, a deal allegedly brokered by his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik. 

Shaik’s company, Nkobi Investments, had a 20% indirect shareholding in African Defence Systems (ADS), which was awarded the R1.3bn contract to provide combat suites to the navy’s four new corvettes.

The Zuma-Thales deal was allegedly recorded in the so-called “encrypted fax” authored by Thales representative Alain Thethard, who has stated under oath that he is not prepared to return to SA. 

Guerrier maintains that Thales’s involvement in the arms deal was defined by “transparent disclosure” and a genuine drive to find the “most cost-effective solution for the SA Navy”. 

She adds that “it makes no sense … that there was room for an improper sweetening of the deal either by Thales or ADS or for anyone in the procurement process”. 

Thales was originally charged along with Shaik, but the charges were withdrawn in 2004. They were reinstated in 2005, following Shaik’s conviction. That case was then withdrawn in 2009, when acting national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Mokotedi Mpshe found that the so-called “spy tapes” recordings of then Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy and former NDPP Bulelani Ngcuka showed that Zuma’s prosecution was tainted by political interference. 

The DA successfully challenged that decision in court, but Guerrier argues that no court found that the decision to withdraw charges against Thales was irrational. She says Thales was never informed who made the decision to reinstate charges against it and why. 

Both Zuma and Thales SA are fighting for the case against them to be permanently stayed. Zuma argues that the prosecution has been dragging on for 16 years and says it is the state, not him, that is responsible. He further alleges that the entire case against him has been poisoned by political interference and misconduct, aimed at making him look like a criminal.