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Arms deal critics accuse commission of holding up process

Sarah Evans

Arms deal critics represented by Lawyers for Human Rights have accused the Seriti commission of making it impractical to cross-examine key witnesses.

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils will testify at the commission on June 2. (Gallo)

Prominent arms deal critics at the arms procurement commission say the latest round of delays over the acquisition of documents has effectively locked them out of the process altogether. Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren, all authors and critics of the deal represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) on Wednesday accused the commission of making it impractical and impossible to cross-examine key witnesses.

“LHR was hindered this week from effectively cross-examining Rear Admiral Jonathan Kamerman on his technical knowledge of the purchase of corvettes forming part of the multibillion-rand arms deal and the allegations of corruption against him.

“Kamerman is currently employed by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, which he joined a few months after retiring from the navy in 2006. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems is a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp, which won considerable contracts in the arms deal,” LHR said on behalf of the three men.

LHR said it was only given one day to study nearly 800 pages of documents related to Kamerman’s evidence, making it impossible for the attorneys to cross-examine him.

“It was due to this that LHR declined to cross-examine Kamerman and reserved the right to recall him at a future date after these documents had been delivered.”

Not the first allegation
This is not the first time these critics have alleged that the commission makes it impossible to acquire key documents. 

“The request forms part of increasing frustrations around a lack of time to consider statements and documents related to the [commission]. LHR is equally concerned about the lack of access to key documents that are vital to properly prepare cross-examination of witnesses and prepare clients’ statements. These are documents generally unfavourable to witnesses and not put up by them, their legal teams or evidence leaders in the leading of their evidence.

“A recent example was our inability to cross-examine former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin due to a lack of access to relevant documentation, including the contracts on which the procurement packages were based.

“This lack of access to documents and time is an ongoing and growing concern. For the past year, we have only been given documents at the last minute and been expected to have thoroughly examined them and cross-examine as soon as the witness has completed their testimony.

“We have requested a series of documents since February 2013. So far, we have only been given those that are attached to witness statements,” the lawyers said. 

But commission spokesperson William Baloyi said the lawyers had access to Kamerman’s witness statement, which should have been sufficient for cross-examination.

He also said the delay in acquiring the documents was related to when the lawyers requested the documents, and accused LHR of being unprepared. 

“They were given an opportunity to cross-examine [Kamerman], however they read a pre-typed statement giving reasons why they cannot cross-examine. But of particular interest was that they didn’t request more time to cross-examine.” 

“They simply said they cannot proceed to cross, which gives the impression that they were only ready with providing reasons with why instead of asking for more time. So they were not ready to cross-examine,” Baloyi said.    

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils will testify at the commission on June 2. The commission is adjourned until then.


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