Presidency's guns fire at Sunday Times

The Presidency on Sunday strongly rejected renewed allegations of arms-deal corruption involving President Thabo Mbeki, and denied he received any bribes from contractors.

“The Presidency has noted today’s [Sunday] front-page article of the Sunday Times headlined ‘Mbeki took R30-million and gave some to [African National Congress president Jacob] Zuma’,” a Presidency statement said.

“The report, which purports to be a result of six months’ investigation, is but a hotchpotch recycling of allegations that have from time to time been peddled against the government’s strategic defence procurement package.

“This time the Sunday Times outdoes itself by placing a spurious allegation in the public domain, ie President Thabo Mbeki received a bribe of R30-million from MAN Ferrostaal.

“The Presidency would like to place it on record that President Thabo Mbeki has never at any stage received any amount of money from MAN Ferrostaal.

“The Sunday Times or anyone who has evidence that the president or anyone else received bribe(s) in the procurement process should, as we have emphasised before, approach the law-enforcement agencies,” the Presidency said.

The findings of the joint investigation into the arms deal had found no evidence of “any improper or unlawful conduct by the government”.

In their joint statement of November 15 2001, the investigators (the Auditor General, national director of public prosecutions and the Public Protector) said, among other things: “No evidence was found of any improper or unlawful conduct by the government.

“The irregularities and improprieties referred to in our report point to the conduct of certain officials of the government departments involved and cannot, in our view, be attributed to the president or the ministers involved in their capacity as members of the ministers’ committee or Cabinet,” the statement said. “There are therefore no grounds to suggest that the government’s contracting position is flawed.”

Challenge
While all South Africans await the evidence that the newspaper should submit to the law-enforcement agencies, the Presidency challenged the Sunday Times to explain, among others:

  • The name of the United Kingdom specialist risk consultancy that authored the report on which the paper supposedly based its article and the reason for its concealment of the consultancy’s name; and
  • Its reliance on a “leading Central European manufacturer” that commissioned the consultancy to investigate the purported “questionable business practices” of MAN Ferrostaal to fend off MAN Ferrostaal’s attempted “hostile takeover bid against it”.
“By the way, the mystique attached to this information starts to ring hollow given that information about these competitors is easily available on the internet.

“In other words, what is meant to be a ‘six-month investigation’ by the Sunday Times turns out to be peddling of information among competing companies, including, in its own words, ‘[a] number of arms dealers who were involved in bidding for the [South African] contracts’,” the Presidency said.

It attacked the newspaper’s “grotesque allegation that Zuma acted as Mbeki’s ‘front man during the arms-deal negotiations’, particularly in the context of the court process currently under way”.

“Whereas the article acknowledges that it is based on allegations, the paper’s editorial (‘The arms-deal truth must out, once and for all’) openly attaches ‘truth’ to the allegations.
The unstated premise of the editorial is that the allegations are ‘truthful’ because the Sunday Times says so. Rational South Africans will surely find this logic flawed!”

The Presidency said there is an additional reason why professionals and society ought to worry about the Sunday Times‘s brand of journalism as illustrated by the article in question. This relates to the paper’s seeming enthusiastic voyage to rewriting the fundamentals of journalism.

“By readily regurgitating known and spurious allegations—supposedly after six months of a laborious investigation—while at the same time concealing easy-to-find information which casts doubt on the credibility of its article, the paper appears to be pursuing an agenda that it only can explain.

“The danger exists that journalism, which plays an important role in any democracy, may ultimately become a ‘rumour industry’ in which any and every allegation finds its way in the pages of newspapers, thus stripping the profession of the legitimacy that it must enjoy in pursuit of its role,” the Presidency said.

Calls for inquiry
Earlier on Sunday, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille urged Mbeki to appoint a commission of inquiry into the renewed allegations and explain his alleged involvement.

“If the president facilitated a R2-million bribe for Jacob Zuma and R28-million for the ANC, it would show that the ANC is rotten to the core,” she said. It would explain why Mbeki and the ANC had “blocked every attempt to investigate the arms deal”.

“President Mbeki must now explain himself to the nation in a televised address without delay. We have the right to hear his side of the story. He has the right to tell his side of the story. But we want the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

“Whether he admits or denies the allegation, the president must appoint a judicial commission of inquiry, headed by a judge of impeccable reputation and with full powers of subpoena, to fully investigate every aspect of the arms deal,” Zille said.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said he was “disgusted” by the allegations.

“But we are not surprised. Can we trust the ANC leadership—both Mbeki and Zuma? Mbeki and the ANC have been asked many times to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry.

“It explains why the newly elected lynch mob that controls the ANC is reluctant to trust the judiciary, because they are aware of these shady dealings and schemes,” Holomisa said.

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille also called for an independent inquiry.

The latest allegation of corruption is in line with information contained in the original “De Lille dossier”, she said.

“It is high time that all the allegations in the De Lille dossier are investigated by an independent judicial commission of inquiry that can lead to the prosecution of all those implicated in the arms deal,” De Lille said.—Sapa

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