Maharaj won’t say he did not lie about arms deal

2011-11-21 00:00

CAPE TOWN —  Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj refused to confirm or deny in an e-tv interview last night that he lied to the Scorpions during a 2001 interview that formed part of a larger investigation into the arms deal.

This after the Mail & Guardian called Maharaj a liar on its front page, based on information the paper unearthed by contravening the “witness-protection” rules contained in the National Prosecution Act.

During the e-tv interview, host Justice Malala asked Maharaj six times whether he lied to the Scorpions. The closest Maharaj came to saying “no” was in his answer to Malala’s first question, when he said, in reference to the Scorpions interview, that “it was a single incident which could not be seen in isolation, but formed part of a larger probe from which no formal charge was made”. Maharaj then told Malala “he was trying to take one thing and saying it had to be proven, No, Justice.”

M & G editor Nic Dawes said it was a remarkable interview because Maharaj refused to deny he lied.

Anyone who does not have confidence in his own actions to answer such a simple but critically important question should immediately stand down from public office and resign from his post,” said Dawes.

Earlier yesterday, Maharaj did tell Beeld he was not involved in any corruption or bribery during his terms as transport minister.

This after the Sunday Times had accused Maharaj and his wife, Zarina, of receiving bribes of some R2,3 million from French weapons manufacturer Thales between 1997 and 1999.

Maharaj was transport ministerat the time, which was also when his department awarded two large contracts — one of R2,5 billion for the N3 toll road between Durban and Johannesburg, and the second of R265 million for drivers’ licence cards.

The Sunday Times reported the payments were made to the Maharajs via the Swiss bank account of Minderley Investments, a company that belonged to Schabir Shaik.

The newspaper stated that Thales and its predecessor, Thompson CSF, used the Swiss account to pay money to the couple. Shaik was found guilty of corruption in 2005.

The Sunday Times said it has a document showing that Thompson CSF and Minderley Investments reached an agreement. The paper said this document has not been published before.

Maharaj yesterday told Beeld he was investigated thoroughly by everyone between 2002 and 2007 — from the Scorpions and the intelligence service to the British office for serious economic crimes.

Maharaj said the Scorpions did not find anything against him, despite the people who had him investigated — namely Thabo Mbeki, Penuell Maduna and Bulelani Ngcuka — not being his friends and being very hostile towards him.

Maharaj said the latest Sunday Times report is based on a tiny piece of information that added nothing to the investigation against him.

“I was not even on the tender board back then,” he said, adding that the Scorpions had all the minutes of the tender meetings and Sunday Times could see that if they wanted to.

Maharaj said he has not yet discussed the allegations against him with President Jacob Zuma. “The president has not yet said anything about this to me.”

Maharaj said his legal team will decide whether to take any further steps against the Sunday Times, as the report is “character assassination”.

DA MP Stuart Farrow said he will ask the public protector to investigate the allegations and has asked for Maharaj to be suspended.

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