Maharaj took arms deal bribes - claim

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma's spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, is said to have received bribes from French weapons maker Thales, which is at the centre of an arms deal probe, the Sunday Times reported.

The then transport minister was paid 1.2 million French francs (R2.3m) through an offshore bank account registered in his wife's name, before Thales was awarded a credit card licence contract, according to the newspaper's investigation.

Zuma's former financial adviser and convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik's Swiss bank account was used as a conduit by Thales to channel the money into Maharaj's wife's bank account, the newspaper alleged.

The payments were said to have been made between 1997 and 1999, when Maharaj was transport minister.

Shaik, was in 2005 sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in soliciting bribes to Zuma prior to the awarding of arms contracts to Thales.

He has since been released on medical parole.

Over the last decade, South Africa has spent about $5bn to modernise its military, in a deal that included the purchase of 12 trainer Hawk jets and naval patrol boats from five European groups, including BAE systems and Thales, which was then known as Thomson-CSF.

Commission of inquiry

The arms purchase has been clouded by allegations of bribery to senior government officials and blemished South Africa's young democracy.

Last month government appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate claims of corruption in the awarding of the country's largest military contracts.

The commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses including Zuma, recommend legal action against individuals involved and even cancel contracts, the justice minister said.

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