/ 7 August 2008

No need for arms-deal probe, maintains Presidency

The Presidency has maintained there is no need for a judicial commission of inquiry into South Africa’s controversial arms deal.

In written replies to three parliamentary questions, tabled on Thursday, it also says President Thabo Mbeki has never been approached by either the Scorpions or any other local or international investigating agency for advice or assistance, or to testify on the matter.

Further, it again repeats that Mbeki ”has no recollection” of a meeting it is claimed took place in France between him and an arms dealer 10 years ago when he was deputy president.

Mbeki has previously said he could ”honestly not recall” a 1998 meeting in Paris with representatives of Thint, then known as Thompson CSF.

However, it is reported that South Africa’s former ambassador to France, Barbara Masekela, arranged a ”courtesy” meeting between Mbeki and the arms company on December 17 of that year.

At that time, Mbeki chaired a ministerial sub-committee responsible for approving arms-deal packages. Thint is currently a co-accused in the Jacob Zuma corruption trial.

In its replies, the Presidency said it has ”thoroughly investigated” the matter.

”Neither the minister’s office nor ambassador Masekela nor the French embassy — nor indeed any available diary notes — has any information about the nature of such a meeting. Ambassador Masekela did not attend such a meeting.

”One can only conclude that (if it did take place) it was a courtesy meeting of the kind that occurs frequently and routinely during the course of foreign visits by members of the government without significant substance,” it said.

It also dismissed the need for an arms-deal inquiry.

”Given that there has already been a thorough investigation of the matter in South Africa; and given that the full resources of our criminal justice system are available to deal with any evidence that any individual has broken the law, government is of the view that there is no need for a judicial inquiry,” it said.

The parliamentary questions were all posed by the Democratic Alliance in March this year.

The Sunday Times last weekend published explosive allegations that Mbeki was paid R30-million by a German shipbuilding company to guarantee it would receive a submarine contract in South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms deal.

On Wednesday, the Presidency said Mbeki is consulting his lawyers on whether to take action against the Sunday Times for its ”so-called” report of his corrupt involvement in the arms deal.

”The Presidency categorically rejects all allegations made in the so-called report. The Presidency denies categorically that Mbeki facilitated any money,” Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad told a media briefing in Pretoria.

”Obviously in the Presidency we have decided to take legal advice, and once the legal advice is given the president will take the necessary steps.”

Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin echoed these sentiments and slammed the media for its ”spurious” and ”really quite absurd” allegations regarding the arms deal. — Sapa