Heath unit was 'kept out of arms probe'

Former head of the Heath Investigating Unit Judge Willem Heath said his unit would have come to a very different conclusion than the three agencies the government eventually tasked with investigating arms deal irregularities.

Speaking after his testimony in the Schabir Shaik fraud and corruption trial, Heath said: “There was a deliberate attempt by government to keep us out of the investigation.”

Heath said his unit would have investigated the “real issues”, such as the validity of the tender process. The unit would have affected the awarding of the contracts, whereas the criminal investigation by the three agencies did not affect the contracts.

Standing outside the Durban High Court Heath said “there are things of much more substance” that did not come to light and which the public will never know.

Inside the courtroom Heath testified how he and his unit were excluded from investigations into arms deal irregularities.

He said when Patricia de Lille MP contacted him with information about alleged irregularities his unit first had to apply for a proclamation to investigate. However, it had to do some initial investigations because it had learnt that if a matter was “sensitive to the government”, government was usually “hesitant” to issue a proclamation, or never did so.

After the Auditor-General (AG) issued his special review, a report on possible irregularities, the unit finalised its request for a proclamation which went to the justice minister, but got no response, not even an acknowledgement of receipt, Heath said.

He said after the adoption of the AG’s special review by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) he listened to all the evidence relating to the allegations in Parliament “which strengthened my view that we should get involved”.

After the Scopa report on the matter there was a meeting between the Heath unit, the Public Protector, the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the AG.
It was agreed that all four should be involved in the investigation.

He said at the third meeting a representative from the Public Protector said they no longer believed the unit should be part of the investigation. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions said it also no longer supported the appointment of the unit, and the AG’s office said in a media interview it had also withdrawn its support.

Heath said at that stage justice minister Penuell Maduna said a prima facie case was needed for the approval of the investigation.

He said according to a Constitutional Court ruling there was a year to go before he would be disqualified as head of the unit and he offered to resign as judge and continue as head of the unit so an investigation would not be affected.

He said despite a heavy workload the unit would not have been affected by this because he had asked for a bigger budget to appoint additional people.

The testimony relating to the arms deal irregularities concerns count three of corruption against Shaik. The State alleges he solicited a bribe of R500 000 per annum from French arms company Thomson CSF in exchange for protection during investigations into arms deal irregularities. - Sapa

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