Zuma ‘Eiffel tower’ claim: Arms deal group to go through transcripts

The Seriti Commission of Inquiry has said it would withhold comment on a report of arms deal-linked bribery allegations against President Jacob Zuma until it went through the transcripts.

“The commission will withhold comment until such time that we have gone through the relevant portion of the transcript that is being referred to,” spokesperson William Baloyi said yesterday.

“We will then make a determination after we have gone through the transcript but for now we withhold comment.”

Earlier, The Sunday Times newspaper detailed allegations that in 2000, Zuma accepted a R500 000-a-year bribe from Ajay Sooklal, a “fixer” for French Arms company Thales, by using the code words “Eiffel tower”.

Zuma apparently signalled his acceptance by remarking during a meeting with Alain Thetard, the then-head of Thales South African subsidiary Thint, that “I see the Eiffel Tower lights are shining today”.

Thint is one of the companies linked to the country’s arms-deal controversy. In 1997, Thint was awarded a multibillion-rand contract to equip four new navy frigates with combat suites.

The claims detailed in the Sunday Times emerged from transcripts of testimony provided in a confidential arbitration hearing between Sooklal and Thales over a fee dispute.

The presidency said there was “nothing new in the allegations”.

“The presidency has noted the allegations that have been repeated in the Sunday Times seeking to link Zuma to whatever wrongdoing is alleged by critics of the arms deal,” said presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj.

When he was asked why an outright denial of the allegations was not declared, Maharaj said that the matter was before the commission investigating allegations of corruption in the 1999 multibillion-rand deal.

“That is where the matter will be interrogated. We are not engaging through the media on the matter. There is only one official enquiry.”

Zuma established the Seriti Commission of Inquiry in 2011 to probe alleged corruption that took place when government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.

In April 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority dropped charges of corruption that had been levelled against Zuma in relation to the arms deal, citing a political conspiracy against Zuma which made it impossible to proceed.

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