The head of the Hawks, Anwa Dramat, has questioned whether it is in SA's interest to pursue remaining investigations linked to the arms-deal scandal.
The head of the Hawks, Anwa Dramat, on Wednesday questioned whether it was in South Africa’s interest to pursue the only two remaining investigations linked to the arms-deal scandal.
Dramat told Parliament’s watchdog public accounts committee, Scopa, that both cases were dependent on obtaining information from other countries, and could therefore take up to 10 years to conclude.
“These two legs await information from other authorities. But even with information from the said authorities, the question is whether it is in the best interest of the country to pursue these investigations, which will take at least five to 10 years and cost more than R10-million.”
He added, to the outrage of MPs: “That is for Parliament to take an executive decision on.”
Dramat was referring to investigations into claims that senior South African officials took bribes from German and British arms-makers who secured tenders to sell the country German warships and Hawk jet trainers.
He confirmed that a single investigator—former Scorpions members Johan du Plooy—has been working on the complex case involving the German Frigate Consortium.
In order to obtain the help of the German authorities, the Hawks asked the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to appoint a judge to issue a request for mutual legal assistance. The matter has since been referred to the Special Commercial Crimes Unit.
“Those dockets were presented to the NPA in June,” Dramat said, adding that the Hawks had no choice but to wait for the NPA’s next move.
The second case, involving claims of bribes from Britain’s BAE Systems, appeared similarly stalled, with the police waiting for a decision from the NPA on whether or not to proceed with charges, or to request further investigation.
Dramat said together the two cases involved alleged illicit payments of about R480-million.
Dragging their feet
Opposition MPs charged that the state of play suggested authorities were dragging their feet and might be under political duress to drop any remaining probe into the scandal, which dates from more than a decade ago.
“It is my impression ... that what we’ve heard today [Wednesday] is that there is an investigation where there are 460 boxes of documents, 4,7-million computer-generated documents and one investigator apparently assigned to that investigation,” David Maynier from the Democratic Alliance said.
“I conclude or infer from that that what we are dealing with here is a non-investigation. The inference is always that we are in a situation like this because there has been some kind of political interference.”
He asked Dramat and NPA head Menzi Simelane whether President Jacob Zuma and current or former ministers had ever sought to influence the course of the investigations.
Both Dramat and Simelane strenuously denied any political meddling.
Dramat said he had only met Zuma in person on one occasion, “and there was no discussion of any investigation with the president at all”.
“I can confirm that at least on my side there has been no pressure or undue influence that has been placed on me in terms of this investigation.”
Simelane added: “The answer is no, I have never discussed any matter in the NPA with President Zuma.”
He added that he would not rush the cases to suit the opposition either.
“The matter will be dealt with in accordance with the law and as reasonably and possibly as we can. We are not going to do anything that compromises any investigation just because it suits any individuals or parties that are interested in this matter.”
Lack of foreign cooperation
Asked about his decision to order the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) to abandon steps to freeze the foreign assets of former defence adviser Fana Hlongwane in the BAE investigation, Simelane again cited a lack of foreign cooperation among the obstacles encountered.
Maynier quipped that the snail’s pace at which both cases were proceeding suggested the “Hawks need a strong dose of investigative Red Bull”.
The arms-deal investigations go back to the mid-1990s. In 2008, the Scorpions reopened the case involving BAE’s sale of Hawk jet trainers to South Africa and raided the offices of Hlongwane and BAE’s Pretoria premises at the end of that year.
In February, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office decided to settle bribery charges with arms manufacturer BAE Systems, raising concerns that the South African probe would hit a dead end.
In March, Simelane ordered the AFU not to pursue an attempt to seize millions of rands held in Lichtenstein by Hlongwane, saying he was not convinced by the evidence against him.—Sapa