By Kwazi Dlamini

The People’s Tribunal on Economic Crime, currently in session at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, is drawing to a close but it has certainly produced its share of sensational revelations.

On Monday Ajay Sooklal, formerly a legal representative of French arms company Thales, dropped a bombshell by revealing a range of key role players in the alleged corruption clouding the arms deal. Those named included President Jacob Zuma, former president Kgalema Motlanthe, and two former French presidents, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy. Thales – previously known as Thomson-CSF – won a stake to provide the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) with modern arms but the deal sparked outrage when rumours of bribery and corruption surfaced.

It was not the first time “Witness X”, as he was called before his testimony, spoke out about Thales’ involvement in procurement relating to the arms deal. Sooklal had told eNCA in May last year that, should the corruption charges against Zuma ever come to court, he was willing to testify that Thales bribed Zuma with cash payments, luxury stays in expensive hotels and designer clothes.

Corruption cover-ups

He alleged that Thales paid then deputy president Zuma R500 000 per month to protect the company’s business dealings in South Africa and to also secure protection from any probe into Thales’ supposed illegal dealings in the arms deal. In 2011 President Zuma appointed the Seriti Commission of Inquiry, headed by Justice Willie Seriti, to probe the 1999 arms deal. The commission found no hint of corruption, to the surprise of nobody.

Sooklal told of how Zuma invited him to the presidential residence in 2012, where the president asked him not to testify or reveal to the Seriti Commission that he had received money from Thales throughout the years. Sooklal said that he agreed not to testify only because the invitation to the president’s residence took him by surprise, and the reason he finally decided to come clean was Zuma’s wrongdoings over many years.

He told retired Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob, heading the tribunal’s panel of adjudicators, that he got a call from Duduzane Zuma who requested a meeting. Sooklal alleged that Duduzane came to his hotel in Durban asking for employment, as he was squatting with a friend and didn’t even have taxi fare. “It came as a surprise to me when Duduzane became a millionaire few years after the incident in my hotel. It seemed clear that the pursuance of money had no boundaries.”

Sooklal also mentioned Chippy Shaik – brother of Shabir, Zuma’s notorious former financial advisor – as one of the role players in the arms deal. Chippy, who was the head of acquisitions in the SANDF at the time, is alleged to have received $1-million from Thales.

Sooklal was not let off the witness stand that easily as Judge Yacoob cross examined him with probing questions on his relationship with the people involved in the arms deal. “We cannot let inconsistencies and difficulties in an inquiry like this pass by simply out of sympathy for a whistle-blower,” said Yacoob.

Judge Yacoob’s questions also seemed to be questioning Sooklal’s moral stance on the case being discussed, which gave the witness the right to not answer those questions, according to evidence leader Mkululi Duncan Stubbs.

Sooklal withdrew from the session after asking several times for a break to consult with evidence leaders.

The tribunal insisted that Sooklal’s testimony would be used; however, Judge Yacoob said the testimony needs to be investigated.

• Image from Open Secrets