Mac’s foreign stash

2007-03-24 21:17

The Scorpions’ investigation of former Transport Minister Mac Maharaj and his wife, Zarina, is centred on millions of rands stashed in foreign accounts.

City Press has traced a sizeable number of questionable payments made by, among others, Jacob Zuma’s jailed former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. They were made into accounts belonging to Maharaj or his wife in the Isle of Man, the UK and in Zurich and Geneva.

City Press has also established that Shaik, former boss of Nkobi Holdings, used a company he established offshore called Minderly Investment to put money into a Banque SCS Alliance account belonging to Zarina Maharaj.

A four-month City Press investigation has revealed that the account was operational between 1996 and 2000 when Maharaj was transport minister. In that time, his department awarded two multimillion-rand tenders for the credit-card drivers’ licences and the N3 toll road construction between Johannesburg and Durban. Shaik, who was also a director of Thomson, or his companies, benefited in both.

City Press can reveal that Maharaj’s wife opened a bank account on October 14, 1996 and closed it on April 6, 2000. Only two credit transfers were made into the account in that period – both were from Shaik’s offshore company.

On October 16, 1996, 579 999 French francs, then estimated at US $111 111, were deposited into Zarina Maharaj’s Banque SCS Alliance account by Shaik’s company. Shaik’s Minderly account was opened on October 11, 1996 and Zarina Maharaj’s, three days later.

On March 13, 1997, $100 000 was deposited into the same account by Minderly, which had Shaik as its only signatory. Six days after the first payment, $96 000 was debited from this account to another in Zarina Maharaj’s name at Allied Dunbar Bank. About 27 days after the second payment, $65 000 was debited to this account. It was opened by her in the 1980s. In 2000, a $54 268 cheque was issued to her and the account was closed.

Documents in City Press’s possession show that Shaik’s Swiss account had two credit transfers made for 1.2 million French francs from Banque Paribas Paris. It is believed investigators want to establish who Shaik’s funders in Paris are. It is well known that Paris is the head office of French arms firm Thint. It is accused with Shaik of paying bribes to Zuma. It is common cause that Thint, then called Thomson-CSF, had a 33.3% share in the R650 million drivers’ licence tender. The payments made to the Maharajs were in 1996 and 1997. A decision on the credit-card licence was announced in 1998 and the N3 tender process was finalised in June 1998.

A letter from the Scorpions’ director of investigations, Thanda Mngwengwe, shows that the Scorpions have made an application under the International Co-operation in Criminal Matters Act to the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police to get the full scope of the origins and “further flow of funds” in foreign countries for “possible prosecution of Maharaj and/or Z Maharaj and/or Shaik”.

This raises the possibility that Shaik could again find himself in the dock for allegedly paying money to the Maharajes after which he and Thint benefited from the contracts. Investigators also want amounts of $95 979 and $64 979 marked “B/O CREDIT SUISSE” in Zarina Maharaj’s account explained.

The payment dates show they were received before crucial decisions by Maharaj’s department on the two tenders. At the time, Maharaj was planning to retire from politics in 1999.

Late last year, Maharaj launched an application at the Pretoria High Court seeking a declaratory order against sections of the National Prosecuting Authority which, he said in papers, were “inconsistent” with the Constitution.

A source said then that the move followed summonses served on him and his wife to appear before Mngwengwe to answer questions on what was termed the “Swiss matter”. In terms of Section’s 28 subsections (6) (8) and (10), a person being summoned has no right to silence, can only leave when told to and a failure to appear and telling an untruth are considered offences for which a person could be jailed or fined or both.

City Press has established that Maharaj appeared on June 19, 2003 and Zarina the next day before Advocate Annemarie Friedman, who led the interrogations.

Maharaj has now asked the Pretoria High Court to stop Scorpions investigators from using the information sourced from him and his wife. He argues that it was obtained using sections of the law which, in his view, were unconstitutional.

Approached for comment, Maharaj said he did not wish to comment about the claims against him. “Talk to my attorney. Forcing me to comment would be asking me to act improperly,” said Maharaj.

City Press is in possession of two letters dated July 29, 2005 to Maharaj and his wife by Scorpions’ Gauteng head Gerrie Nel. It is an invitation to them to clear contradictions and apparent omissions after their interrogations.

A September 30, 2005 reply from Maharaj’s lawyer, Rudi Krause, says “no crime whatsoever has been committed”.

Krause said yesterday that the case was “at a stage where it is being attended to by my colleague Mr Claasen who, unfortunately, is on leave”.

In a follow-up letter, Nel writes: “We have an authorised investigation during which your clients gave evidence. We are now at the point of making decisions regarding the investigation. Your clients’ co-operation would put us in a better position to make decisions, but is not essential.”