/ 11 March 2013

Arms commission witness lashes Seriti over ANC claims

Arms Commission Witness Lashes Seriti Over Anc Claims

Crawford-Browne said it is "disingenuous" of its chairperson, judge Willie Seriti, to claim that no evidence implicating the ANC in corruption in the R70-billion arms deal had been brought to light.

In his response sent off last Friday, Charles Abrahams of Abrahams Kiewitz Attorneys said his client Crawford-Browne vigorously refuted this claim. "We are furthermore instructed that it is simply not true to suggest that no witnesses implicate the ANC in the corruption in the arms procurement in 1999," Abrahams wrote.

Seriti sent an angry letter to Crawford-Browne last month, urging him that his attempts to tell the commission what to do should come to an end. "Currently, no evidence implicating the African National Congress has been brought to the attention of the commission," wrote Seriti in his letter. "Should such evidence come to light, the commission will deal with the matter as it deems appropriate."

Seriti also stated that no evidence leaders were kept in the dark about the activities of the commission.

"The commission wishes to express its irritation with the persistent allegation by your client and yourselves that evidence leaders are kept in silos, implying that certain information is withheld from some of them," wrote Seriti. "No evidence leader is kept in the dark about the activities of the commission. We hope this allegation will not be repeated. The incessant attempts to tell the commission what to do should come to an end."

Abrahams responded that Crawford-Browne understood that the notions of accountability and transparency, both of which feature in the motto of the arms procurement commission, require that its conduct and its directions be subjected to public scrutiny in the process of being transparent.

"Our client has instructed us to inform you that unless and until he is satisfied that the arms procurement commission is on the right track as regards transparency [which his experience suggests it is not], accountability [conspicuously absent], and upholding the rule of law and the Constitution, he will continue to make the sort of helpful suggestions that he has hitherto made," wrote Abrahams.

Document inspection
Crawford-Browne's own experience was that the evidence leaders were unable to enlighten him as to the system to which the documentation amassed by the arms procurement commission was organised. Instead, they could not explain the various numbering on documents shown to him, nor the non-sequential nature of the numbering, nor whether all the documents he requested sight of were in the files shown to him.

The evidence leaders had arranged the inspection of the documents and they did not attach any pre-conditions to the inspections.

"According to our client, after the inspection of documents had been underway for more than a day, you and advocate [Fanyane Moses] Mdumbe intervened in a process that was going smoothly and cooperatively [with advocate Mdumbe actually facilitating this actively] to reverse what had been arranged by the evidence leaders and you declined further access to documentation, citing confidentiality as the basis for this unexpected development," wrote Abrahams.

"Only after our client threatened an urgent court application was this bizarre stance abandoned. He was required to sign a document about preserving confidentiality in order to get access to that which had been offered to him for inspection unconditionally."

Abrahams said Crawford-Browne believed that the basis upon which the documents come into the possession of the arms procurement commission would surely entail the waiver of any confidentiality, classification, secrecy or restriction.

"Why else would the documents have been given to the arms procurement commission?" wrote Abrahams. "According to our client, surely not for the purpose of taking a secret peek at them and then keeping them out of the public eye?"

Public hearings
Crawford-Browne is a former banker who forced the hand of President Jacob Zuma when he took him to the Constitutional Court to compel him to set up an independent inquiry to investigate corruption in the arms deal. Zuma finally announced plans to set up the arms procurement commission, and the case was formally withdrawn.

In Abrahams's response to Seriti, the chairperson was asked to look at Crawford-Browne's amended particulars of claim filed in the Constitutional Court and the documents copied, paginated and indexed by the arms procurement commission for use during his evidence at the public hearings, which have been delayed by the commission until August.  

Claims were made by among others, Andrew Feinstein, who served as chair of its study group on public accounts, and who argued that a thorough investigation into the arms deal had to be done, he said. Feinstein resigned in 2001 when the ANC refused to launch an investigation into the matter.

Feinstein had "telling admissions made to him by ANC office bearers" and the ANC had not sued anyone for defamation, said Abrahams.

"Our client advises that the ANC has moreover held its private investigation of the wrongdoing in the arms deals," he wrote.

Crawford-Browne pleaded that subpoenas to the ANC could lead to the amplification of his claims.

'The taking of bribes'
"For these reasons, it is respectfully contended by our client that it is disingenuous of the arms procurement commission to now say that the ANC is not implicated in the corruption. According to our client, its need for funding was a primary rationale for the taking of bribes and impacts directly upon the terms of reference of the commission," said Abrahams.

"We trust that you do not suggest that as important a document as the founding papers in the very application that led to the appointment of the arms procurement commission has been overlooked by it since November 2011?"

The commission has been controversial from the start, as Zuma and other prominent ANC figures have been implicated in the arms deal scandal, and the final report will be handed to the president. While Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said the commission would be independent of the executive, the justice department deployed two of its senior staff, including Mdumbe, to key positions in the commission.

Seriti has also been dogged by accusations made against him by a former senior commission investigator, Mokgale Norman Moabi, who claimed he had a secret "second agenda". In his resignation letter, Moabi said the chairperson had a "total obsession with the control of information to and from the commission".