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 600,000 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 Thomson- CSF, 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” below).
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.”
Big Mac’s big whoppers unwrapped
Although Mac Maharaj has denied that he received any offshore payments from Schabir Shaik, the evidence shows he did.
In his section 28 interview by the Scorpions in 2003, Maharaj was asked whether he or his wife were account holders of any overseas bank accounts during the period 1995 to 2000.
He answered: “Yes. An account with Allied Dunbar International, which had been opened around 1977/1980, when we were living in Zambia. This account was closed around 2000.”
Maharaj was also asked whether he had knowledge of any payments made by Shaik or anyone on his behalf during the period 1995 to 2000 into any overseas accounts held by him and/or his wife.
He replied: “None.”
His wife, Zarina Maharaj, also submitted a statement, saying: “As far as I recall, no funds were deposited into my overseas accounts by the above.”
Contrary to this, evidence supplied to the Scorpions by the Swiss judicial authorities in 2004 showed:
- Minderley Investment, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Isles, held an account at Banque Alliance SGS, Geneva, between October 11 1996 and March 26 2002.
- Schabir Shaik was the beneficial owner of the account.
- Only two incoming transfers were made into the account: on October 11 1996, a transfer of 600,000 French francs from Banque Paribas in Paris, and on March 13 1997, another transfer of the same amount from the same bank.
- Paribas is known to have been one of the main bankers for Thales, the French company that had a relationship with Shaik.
- Just after the transfers into the Minderley account, the amounts of $111,111 and $100,000 were transferred into another account at Banque SCS, registered in the name of Zarina Maharaj.
- The Zarina Maharaj SCS account was opened on October 14 1996 and closed on April 6 2000.
- On October 22 1996, $96,000 was transferred to the Maharaj account at Allied Dunbar. On April 10 1997, a further $65,000 was transferred to the Allied Dunbar account.
When the Banque Alliance SGS account was closed, a cheque for the balance was written, payable to Zarina Maharaj. — amaBhungane
The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism produced this story. Like it? Bean amaB supporter and help us domore. Know more? Send us a tip-off.