Former foreign affairs minister Pik Botha and several senior retired Armscor officials will be among the key witnesses in a sensational case due to resume in a Paris court later this year.
It is expected to expose details about South Africa’s top-secret international weapons transactions during the days of the arms embargo.
A Portuguese arms dealer, Jorge Pinhol – who is managing director of the British-based Beverly Securities Inc (BSI) – is seeking $300-million (R1,5-billion) from a company called Eurocopter for commission on a helicopter deal with South Africa.
The South African Air Force’s Oryx helicopter is at the centre of the controversy. Denel Aviation maintains that the Oryx is a locally improved product of Eurocopter, but Pinhol insists it is the Super Puma S2, which was smuggled in crates from France via Portugal to South Africa over five years from 1989.
Pinhol started his legal action against A,rospatiale in 1996, saying he was entitled to 10% of the value of the contract. He claims that BSI and Ogma – the Portuguese version of Armscor – used sanctions-busting channels to smuggle the helicopters into South Africa.
Botha has confirmed that he will be available to testify on behalf of Pinhol. “It is in all fairness for justice to be served that I will testify.”
According to diplomatic sources, Botha ordered his Lisbon embassy in 1992 to investigate the dispute about Pinhol’s commission, for fear that the issue may damage relations between Portugal and South Africa.
The investigation found that Pinhol had sufficient grounds for a claim that Eurocopter used BSI’s channel to move the crated helicopters to South Africa.
“This was about other people enriching themselves from a channel created by Pinhol for BSI and Ogma,” a former foreign affairs official said this week.
More than 30kg of secret documents, which miraculously escaped the shredding machines of Arms-cor’s pre-election Operation Masada in 1994, were secretly taken out of South Africa at the end of last year.
Some of these documents were given to Pinhol’s lawyers by officials from foreign affairs.