/ 5 September 2008

Arms activist guilty of contempt of court

Arms-deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne was on Friday found guilty of contempt of court over his renewed claims that Finance Minister Trevor Manuel is corrupt.

Cape High Court Judge Burton Fourie ruled that the former banker had breached a March 2008 court order.

That order interdicted him from repeating the corruption claims until a defamation action, in which Manuel is asking for a permanent gag, has been settled.

However, Fourie rejected a call by Manuel’s legal team for Crawford-Browne to be jailed, and instead postponed sentence for three years.

He said this means that if Crawford-Browne breaches the March interdict again during this period, Manuel will be entitled to approach the court and ask for sentencing on Friday’s conviction.

”However, if the respondent does not again breach the court order during the period of postponement … his sentence will, upon the expiry of the said period, automatically be deemed to have been a warning and discharge.”

He said that despite the seriousness of the offence, it has to be borne in mind that there is huge public interest in the ongoing public debate on the arms deal.

”In fact, this debate and its outcome may seriously impact upon the stability of our fledgling democracy,” Fourie said.

”It is therefore important that responsible debate on this topic be encouraged …

”In my view, [Crawford-Browne’s] conduct in breaching the court order should be viewed against the background of this hugely emotional debate in which he had been such an active participant.

”This obviously does not justify the wilful manner in which he had breached the court order, but provides some insight as to his state of mind when committing the offence.

”At the same time, however, one should not lose sight of the serious impairment of [Manuel’s] dignity brought about by [Crawford-Browne’s] conduct.”

Fourie ordered Crawford-Browne to pay Manuel’s costs, but rejected the Manuel legal team’s suggestion that this be on a punitive scale.

Manuel brought the contempt application on an urgent basis after Crawford-Browne last month released to the media documents, including a 30-page affidavit of allegations.

The affidavit set out the grounds for a criminal complaint of perjury and money laundering against the minister that he subsequently laid with police in Cape Town.

Crawford-Browne said after Friday’s hearing that he thought Fourie’s ruling was fair.

”I have done what I can to air this issue and I think that in the future civil society and the public at large must make sure the arms deal is fully investigated.

”In three years’ time the arms deal will have been thoroughly aired and I will have been vindicated.”

Manuel was not in court.

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