Shaun Abrahams. Picture: SOWETAN
Shaun Abrahams. Picture: SOWETAN

French arms company Thales — accused of bribing former president Jacob Zuma for his “political protection” from any potential investigation into the arms deal —  has criticised former prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams for being “hellbent” on charging it along with Zuma.

On Tuesday, Thales asked the Pietermaritzburg high court to order that Abrahams’ decision “to [re]institute the criminal prosecution [of Thales] … is inconsistent with the constitution and invalid” and must be reviewed and set aside.

It contends that Abrahams had no lawful power to reinstate the case against it and further wants the corruption case permanently stayed.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), however, argues that “Thales’ application for judicial review of Mr Abrahams’ decision to reinstitute the prosecution against it must fail because his decision was rational and lawful”.

Thales contends the NPA is responsible for a decade-long delay in the case against it, because then acting NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe made an “unlawful decision” to withdraw charges against Zuma in 2009, and the NPA chose to fight the DA’s legal challenge against that decision all the way to the Appeal Court.

“Because of the delay, Thales SA has and will suffer significant trial prejudice. It will not be able to mount any defence against the state’s case if the prosecution is to proceed,” Thales advocate Anton Katz argues in papers before the court.

“Potential witnesses have either moved on, will not return to SA to testify or have become unable to do so due to ill health. Furthermore, memories have faded, and Thales SA no longer has access to many documents and other records that might have assisted it in its defence.”

The NPA, meanwhile, maintains that Thales escaped being prosecuted with Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, in 2003 through “trickery”, and is, like Zuma, responsible for the delays in the prosecution against it.

The logo of Thales at a show in Paris, France, May 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU
The logo of Thales at a show in Paris, France, May 16 2019. Picture: REUTERS/CHARLES PLATIAU

The NPA says it decided not to prosecute Thales with Shaik after the company promised to co-operate with its investigation, but says Thales later reneged on that promise.

“As for Thales, it initially escaped prosecution by misleading the NPA about its willingness to co-operate in the prosecution of Mr Shaik, who was accused of having bribed Mr Zuma. After having escaped their initial prosecution by trickery, Thales rode on Mr Zuma’s coat-tails to avoid prosecution. It, too, has been successful in doing so thus far,” it said. 

Thales has hit back at the state for that argument, which it says is an attempted to deflect blame for the delays it insists were caused by the prosecution.

It maintains that the NPA “has provided no other independent reason as to why the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) took almost a decade to make the decision to reinstitute the prosecution” against it.

“Nor has [the NPA] provided any evidence of special circumstances that justify the NDPP’s decision.”

Thales argues that the NPA is treating it “as an add-on to the prosecution of Mr Zuma”.

Thales, then known as Thompson-CSF, secured a R2.6bn contract in 1997 to provide four navy frigates to SA’s government, as part of the wider R60bn arms deal.

As corruption rumours grew, it is the state’s case that Thales agreed in 2002 to pay R500,000 a year to Zuma as a sort of insurance policy that it would be protected from any investigation into the deal, an arrangement that was allegedly brokered by Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik.

In his criminal trial, it emerged that Shaik had paid R888,527 to Zuma over the years in various ways — repairing his cars, paying school fees for his children, paying his bond, buying him clothes and even giving him R15,000 in Christmas spending money in 1997.

As a quid pro quo, prosecutors said, Zuma tried to help Shaik’s prospective business partners, including Thales, which had picked Shaik’s company, Nkobi, as its black empowerment partner.

The hearing continues.