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JACOB ZUMA, having been forced to stand down as South Africa’s president, now faces the resumption of a prosecution for taking bribes in a £2.5 billion arms deal in 1999.
Zuma was deputy president when South Africa entered into this massive arms deal to modernise South Africa’s armed forces.
The huge 1999 deal involved new fighter planes, warships and other weapons. The charges, which he denies, are that Zuma and his associates took big bribes to favour particular arms firms.
Zuma’s associate Schabir Shaik was sentenced to a 15-year jail term in 2005 for taking a bribe from French arms firm Thales.
The end of apartheid was a tremendous step forward, made thanks to very tough struggle by the South African people and their supporters.
But an element of corruption of the new governments of South Africa has been one very large fly in the ointment. Zuma deserves to face the full force of the law, but one of the oddities of corruption investigations is the companies that pay the bribes usually face lesser punishment.
Thales is a huge arms firm. In Britain its many defence deals include building Britain’s main “drone” and arming our warships.
Thales is 24 per cent owned by the French government, and it is also very keen on hiring former British officials and politicians.
Ann Taylor, a former Labour defence minister, sits on the main Thales board. Former Tory defence minister Lord Freeman and Thatcher’s former adviser Lord Charles Powell are both paid to be members of the advisory board of Thales UK.
They all joined Thales after the 1999 South African bribe scandal, so there is no suggestion of any involvement by any of them.
But their work for Thales does shows that arms firms with a history of corruption are very closely integrated into our political system.
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