/ 27 November 2008

Scorpions stage raids in arms-deal probe

The Scorpions have staged a series of new raids in an arms probe that has clouded the political landscape for nearly a decade, a spokesperson said on Thursday.

”There was a synchronised execution of search warrants yesterday [Wednesday] by the Scorpions at a number of residential and business locations across the country,” said Tlali Tlali, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority.

”In particular, this investigation is looking into allegations of fraud and corruption relating to the fight against the conduct of the arms deal,” he said on public broadcaster SAfm.

The raids took place at seven locations in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, he said.

The Star reported that the raids targeted Fana Hlongwane, a prominent businessman and one-time adviser to former defence minister Joe Modise.

The raids also targeted a Zimbabwean businessman suspected by Britain to have received bribes from BAE Systems in order to win lucrative contracts.

Modise, who quit the post in 1999 and died two years later, was named in a South African parliamentary report as being involved in a company that stood to benefit from a $5,5-billion arms-procurement deal.

The deal included the purchase of 12 trainer Hawk jets and naval patrol boats from five European groups, including BAE systems and French arms firm Thales, which was then known as Thomson-CSF.

Investigators said that the government was not fully told of their costs and that some contractors were treated more favourably.

Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) who is expected to become president next year, has been twice indicted in the course of investigations into the arms deal.

Charges against him have been dropped on technical grounds, but prosecutors are appealing the case.

The court verdict that dropped the charges against Zuma also implied that former president Thabo Mbeki had meddled in the prosecution of the case, which prompted the ANC to sack him in September. — AFP