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Arms deal 'critics' face new challenges at commission hearings

Sarah Evans

In the second phase of the arms procurement commission, the so-called critics of the arms deal may be perceived as complainants in the matter.

Phase two of the arms procurement commission will deal with the fraud and corruption allegations that continue to plague the R70-billion arms deal. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

NEWS ANALYSIS

During phase two of the arms procurement commission’s (APC’s) public hearings, which will begin on July 21, who makes the allegations will prove to be just as important as the allegations themselves.

Intentionally or not, by starting phase two of the inquiry with evidence by the so-called “critics” of the arms deal, it sets them up as complainants in the matter. It then leaves two former government officials to respond to these allegations, thus implying that the critics are the inventors of every allegation of fraud and corruption.

Phase two will deal with the fraud and corruption allegations that continue to plague the R70-billion arms deal, 15 years after it was signed.

Phase one, which deals with the rationale and affordability of the deal, will end as soon as former president Thabo Mbeki testifies. No date has been announced for his evidence.

Information obtained by the Mail & Guardian, activists and whistleblowers over the 15-year period includes leaked details from other – now closed – investigations by British, German and South African authorities. The information revealed that at one time, authorities believed that about R1-billion in bribes had been paid to secure the arms deal.

This week, the phase two witness list was released to the public. It kicks off with a list of “whistleblowers”, or “critics”, as commission chairperson, Judge Willie Seriti is wont to call them.

This includes the likes of Patricia De Lille, Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden, Hennie Van Vuuren, Terry Crawford-Browne, Richard Young and Raenette Taljaard.

After the critics, Fana Hlongwane, former adviser to the late defence minister Joe Modise, and Shamin “Chippy” Shaik, former governmental acquisitions chief, will appear. The two appear to be the only witnesses on the list for the purposes of answering allegations against them.

Both were fingered as central to the bribe allegations – although both have denied the charges. But they are certainly not the only people alleged to have been central to impropriety in the deal: Shaik’s brother, Schabir, was convicted of corruption for securing a bribe for President Jacob Zuma in relation to the deal. Tony Yengeni was convicted of fraud for receiving a discount on a luxury vehicle from an arms deal bidder.

Schabir Shaik, Yengeni, and Zuma, are just three characters whose names are glaringly absent from the phase two list. Hlongwane and Shaik will be followed by Johan Du Plooy, the sole Hawks investigator on the last two legs of the arms deal investigation which were closed in 2010, and the man who penned a 2010 memo motivating for the investigation’s end, Hans Meiring.

Importantly, the arms companies themselves are not currently on the witness list. The commission’s spokesperson, William Baloyi, said he could not respond to questions about why this was so, as the commissioners were “not available” this week.

Baloyi confirmed that some winning bidders had made submissions to the commission. Additionally, he said the witness list was “not exhaustive”, so the companies could be called later. It is, however, concerning that they have not been subpoenaed.

For all the commission’s promises to hold an exhaustive inquiry, its phase two witness list betrays it. But the lists’ compilation is not its fatal flaw: its design, is.

Phase one saw allegations found in the 2001 Joint Investigative Team draft report, and the draft auditor general’s report into the arms deal, put to witnesses as if they were allegations made by the critics.

In fact, these allegations are merely repeated, sometimes revealed, in the critics’ books. But the fact remains: the source documentation is available, and the commission has powers of compulsion, which it can use to obtain it.

And in commissions of inquiry, the burden of evidence is not on the interested parties.


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