Mac's secrets

2011-11-27 10:00
Julian Rademeyer and Andrew Trench
This is what former transport minister Mac Maharaj told the Scorpions but doesn’t want you to know.

Today, City Press is publishing details of the controversial transcripts of Maharaj’s 2003 grilling by the Scorpions.

It is a matter of public record and has been so for more than four years since edited extracts appeared in this newspaper in April 2007 under the headlines “Mac fights back” and “Inside the Maharaj interrogation”.

At the time, Maharaj – now President Jacob Zuma’s spin doctor – made no attempt to prevent their publication, nor did he seek to initiate a criminal investigation against the reporters who wrote the stories.

But when the Mail & Guardian (M&G) attempted to publish an article based on the transcripts last week – alleging that Maharaj had lied during the interrogation – he first threatened the newspaper with legal action and then filed criminal complaints against two of its reporters.

Yesterday, Maharaj’s attorney, Rudi Krause, threatened City Press, saying: “I can give you the assurance that should you even republish the 2007 article, we will lay a criminal charge against you and the newspaper ...

“Should you publish now, it will serve to confirm that you or the newspaper are still in the unlawful possession of the documentation.”

Krause said Maharaj could also lay charges in connection with the 2007 publication.

If Maharaj lied to the Scorpions in his secret interview, he is in trouble. Lying during the interview is a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

His statements contradict details of substantial payments the Maharaj couple received from convicted fraudster and Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, and his companies. The statements also contradict details that they had operated a network of foreign bank accounts through which these payments flowed.

The payments were made when Maharaj was transport minister and when his department was involved in awarding two lucrative tenders. Shaik benefited from the tenders.

In 2007, City Press reported that Maharaj and his wife, Zarina, told the Scorpions during questioning that:
» They had no offshore bank accounts in Switzerland;

» They had received no money from Shaik or his companies;

» All monies received offshore were earned by Zarina Maharaj as part of her work for the Geneva-based International Trade Centre, General Electric and Xerox;
 
» The family’s Milsek Investment Trust account was “dormant” when it had in fact received two payments of R100 000 – one of them from a company in Shaik’s Nkobi Holdings group; and

» They did not know where the money paid into the Milsek account came from or who used it.

But the details of an investigation published by City Press in 2007 seriously contradicted these statements.

The newspaper detailed a money trail leading to offshore bank accounts in Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands and France.

More than $200 000 was paid from Minderley Investments, an offshore company set up by Shaik, into a Swiss account opened by Zarina Maharaj.

She opened the account just two days before the first payment from Minderley in 1996.

They were the only deposits made into the account until it was closed in April 2000.
 
These details have subsequently been repeated by the Sunday Times and M&G.

During Maharaj’s tenure, his department awarded two now-controversial tenders.

One was for the upgrade of the N3 toll road between Durban and Johannesburg at a cost of R2.5 billion.

Shaik’s Nkobi Holdings was part of the consortium that netted the tender.

The other tender, a R265?million contract for credit card driver’s licences, benefited Nkobi Holdings, French arms company Thomson-CSF (now Thales) and South African weapons firm Denel.

Last week, the Sunday Times revealed a copy of a “consultancy” agreement between Thomson-CSF and Minderley Investments.

According to the newspaper, the agreement shows that secret payments totalling 1.2 million French francs went from a Thomson-CSF bank account to a Swiss account held by Zarina just two months before the driver’s licence tender was awarded.

These details corroborate those reported by City Press in 2007.

Maharaj has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, saying this week: “I have not been involved in corruption, bribery or broken any law.”

He has refused to confirm or deny whether he and his wife had lied to the Scorpions.

Maharaj’s 2003 interrogation took place in terms of section 28 of the National Prosecuting Authority Act.

It’s a strict measure that strips a person who has been summoned of the right to silence and one that stipulates that a failure to appear or answer questions truthfully is an offence punishable by a fine, imprisonment or both.

Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela said yesterday the fact that City Press had previously published details of the transcript “will have an impact on our investigation because then the information will already be
public knowledge”.

“We would like City Press to provide us with the story so that we can see if we are investigating something that is already in the public domain. We will then make a decision from there.”

City Press yesterday provided the published reports to Polela.