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Arms deal controversy returns to haunt Zuma

The Constitutional Court will be asked to order President Jacob Zuma to appoint an inquiry into the arms deal contracts that led to the now abandoned allegations of corruption against him, when it sits in Johannesburg on Thursday.

The application is being brought by Terry Crawford-Browne, a former banker known for his opposition to the deals, whose previous bid to have an inquiry launched was thwarted because there was already a criminal investigation under way.

Thursday’s application for direct access will seek a review of the refusal to exercise the presidential power to appoint a commission of inquiry contained in Section 84(2)(f) of the Constitution.

Crawford-Browne wants a review of whether the president has fulfilled constitutional obligations and for the court to direct the president to appoint an independent commission of inquiry into the arms deals of 1999.

Crawford-Browne wrote to the president and made a request on December 1 2008 for the commission of inquiry. Current Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was in office at the time.

Former president Thabo Mbeki, who also turned down such a request in 2003, was forced to leave office by the ruling ANC as tension mounted in the party over Zuma’s prosecution for allegedly receiving bribes from arms dealers.

Crawford-Browne was told in December 2008 there was no need for inquiry because a criminal investigation was already under way.

The prosecution against Zuma and arms company Thint was eventually abandoned after the National Prosecuting Authority declared there had been political interference in the investigation. Zuma was inaugurated president in May 2009.

The main issue on Thursday will be whether the president has a constitutional obligation to appoint a commission of inquiry in certain factual circumstances, or whether the matter is a discretion that the president may exercise, or not, at will.

Crawford-Browne believes the refusal to appoint a commission was irrational and that the deals may have been tainted by irregularities, fraud and corruption.

The application is opposed by the president, who will not be at court as he is attending the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town until Friday, according to his spokesperson Zizi Kodwa.

The South African Institute of Race Relations is a friend of the court on the grounds that corruption is a threat to the constitutional order of South Africa, that the president’s refusal is irrational and unreasonable and that the court should direct the president to take reasonable steps to address corruption by appointing an independent commission of inquiry. — Sapa

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