On Friday morning, 22 January, the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed, with costs, the bid by French arms company Thales to challenge racketeering charges. Known at that time as Thomson-CSF, Thales was a supplier in South Africa’s controversial multi-billion-rand arms deal in 1999.
The charges of corruption, racketeering and money laundering are linked to the hugely expensive arms deal, and apply to both former president Jacob Zuma and Thales. Today’s ruling is the latest in a string of legal defeats by the two parties as they try to have their respective slates wiped clean.
In May 2019 Thales and Zuma applied unsuccessfully for a permanent stay of prosecution. A full bench of the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed the application in October that year, ruling that Zuma and Thales would have to stand trial for the corruption-linked charges,
Thales then approached the Constitutional Court, which turned down the application for leave to appeal.
In October 2020 Thales – represented by Advocate Barry Roux SC – argued in the Pietermaritzburg High Court that the National Prosecuting Authority did not have the evidence to charge the company with racketeering. It further attempted to convince the court that its relationship with convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, the middleman in the Zuma-Thales relationship, was legitimate.
It is on this challenge that today’s ruling was handed down.
Since 2005, Zuma has been dodging these charges which, after numerous rounds of withdrawal and reinstatement, were finally reinstated against both parties in 2018.