Thales won't receive fair trial, court told

Thales is facing charges of bribing the former president for protection from an investigation into the controversial arms deal but wants the corruption case against it to be dismissed.

FILE: Former South African President Jacob Zuma, along with co-accused, Thales representative Christine Guerrier, appeared in the Durban High Court on 8 June 2018. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Pool.

JOHANNESBURG – The French arms firm accused of bribing former President Jacob Zuma said that while it admitted that its application for a permanent stay of prosecution was radical and far-reaching, it was also an appropriate and just remedy for the company.

Thales wrapped up its arguments in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday, arguing that the corruption case against the company be dismissed.

The company is facing charges of bribing the former president for protection from an investigation into the controversial arms deal.

Advocate Anton Katz told judges that Thales must be granted a permanent stay of prosecution because the unreasonable delays to getting its case to trial have prejudiced the company to the point that it would not receive a fair trial.

“Why is there a delay of nine years to which Thales has no fault at all, and in those circumstances, we submit that a permanent stay is appropriate.”

He also argued that former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams's 2017 decision to reinstate charges against the company was unlawful because Thales was never given the opportunity to make representations on why it shouldn’t be charged.

“One, he didn’t have the power; two, if he did have the power, then he exercised the power in non-compliance with the policy, and three, it was irrational on its face.”

The firm also argued that it was irrational for it to be automatically added as an accused along with Zuma when the withdrawal decision which was reviewed and set aside only related to Zuma.

WATCH: NPA abused its power, violated and delayed processes - Thales

Thales said Abrahams failed to apply his mind and follow procedure when he decided the firm must be charged with corruption alongside Zuma for the 1990's arms deal.

Katz said Abrahams’s decision to reinstate corruption charges against the company in 2017 was procedurally irrational because he didn’t allow Thales to make representations.

“So he made his decision nine years after the event on a knee-jerk reaction,” Katz said.

But the full bench of judges reminded Katz that Abrahams did explain that he fully considered the facts on the table before deciding.

“You can’t say he was making a decision on something that was nine years ago, Mr Katz. Surely, that’s not factually correct?”

Katz hit back, saying: “In the recent memorandum that related to Mr Zuma, and yes, it contained elements about Thales, but that memorandum was in response to Mr Zuma’s representations at the end of January.”

He also said it was irrational for Abrahams to link the French arms company to the reinstatement of corruption charges against Jacob Zuma because the DA had successfully challenged the 2009 decision to drop charges against the former president but not the company.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)