Manuel wins gag order over arms-deal claims

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel on Thursday won a high court order to stop activist Terry-Crawford-Browne claiming he is guilty of corruption over the multibillion-rand arms deal.

The interim order was handed down by Cape High Court Judge Andre le Grange, who said Crawford-Browne had not provided a ”shred of evidence” for his claims.

”On the available evidence, the statements made by the respondent [Crawford-Browne] are in my view defamatory and part of an ongoing campaign to deliberately undermine the applicant,” the judge said.

”The limited restraint on free speech resulting from the order I make is not directed to stop the respondent from participating in a debate of immense public importance.

”The restraint is directed at the manner in which the respondent has chosen to participate in the debate and the methods he chose to employ.”

Le Grange said his ruling would hold, pending the outcome of an application by Manuel for a permanent order, which he instructed the minister to launch within 20 days.

Common decency

Manuel, who was in court to hear the ruling, said afterwards the fact that he had had to approach a court for protection was sad, as it was a kind of ”negative energy” South Africa did not need.

In a civilised society, people talked to each other and resolved matters such as this.

He said Crawford-Browne had ignored ”basic common decency”, and though he did not want to impede normal discourse, he did want to prevent defamatory statements being made day after day.

He said he had no doubt that his lawyers would initiate the application for the permanent order immediately.

”I think that the grounds are very solid,” he said.

He would not be asking for damages, only a restraining order, because Crawford-Browne’s conduct could not be quantified in monetary terms.

”I only have my name and my integrity. That has to stand in the circumstances,” he said.

”I’m asking for my rights as a citizen to be protected against abuse.”

Crawford-Browne told the South African Press Association he would remove the offending claims from his website, but looked forward to fighting the next round.

”It’s essentially an opportunity to reopen the whole arms-deal saga,” he said.

He repeated his call for a full independent investigation into the arms deal.

Probes were already under way internationally, but the South African government was in denial.

”It’s going to come back to bite them,” he said.

Crawford-Browne is a member of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction and author of the recently-published Eye on the Money, a book on the arms deal.

The website statements that led to Thursday’s ruling were his claims that in signing foreign loan agreements for the deal, Manuel had violated the Public Finance Management Act, as they were never referred to Parliament for approval.

Crawford-Browne had also claimed Manuel ”prostituted himself” to international banks, and that he should be prosecuted for corruption. – Sapa

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