Arms deal kingpin was 'tipped off'

Fana Hlongwane. (Supplied)

Fana Hlongwane. (Supplied)

Fana Hlongwane was allegedly paid R65-million in arms deal bribes.

And, although he should be central to the current commission's probe, apparently he cannot be found and has been removed from the list of witnesses that was released this week.

Because of the tip-off, four box-loads of evidence were allegedly removed from the politically connected consultant's Johannesburg office just hours before the raids early in December 2008. It is unclear who tipped Hlongwane off. The raids were part of the Scorpions' investigation into arms deal corruption.

At the end of 2011, President Jacob Zuma appointed a commission of inquiry under Judge Willie Seriti to investigate allegations of corruption surrounding the multibillion-rand arms deal. The commission's public hearings are scheduled to start on August 5, with not one of the 12 witnesses originally called invited to testify.

Seriti announced a revised 24-person list earlier this week that includes former president Thabo Mbeki, former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and his deputy Ronnie Kasrils, the trade and industry minister at the time of the arms deal, Alec Erwin, and the then finance minister, Trevor Manuel.

The Mail & Guardian has been told that this session of the hearings will be a scenesetter and witnesses will not be cross-examined on allegations that have emerged.

The original list of witnesses consisted mostly of whistle-blowers on corruption surrounding the arms deal. It included Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, retired banker Terry Crawford-Browne, former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, businessperson Richard Young and DA MP David Maynier. Hlongwane, who was the former special adviser to the late defence minister Joe Modise, from 1995 to 1998, was also on the list.

Earlier this year, Seriti claimed Hlongwane could not be traced and, therefore, had not been issued with a subpoena.

Unimpressed
Crawford-Browne, who took Zuma to court and forced his hand in appointing the commission, is unimpressed with the new line-up.

"It seems evident to me that the schedule announced is just more foot-dragging and cover-up, and further evidence of still more bad faith and male fide," Crawford-Browne said.

The claim that Hlongwane was tipped off emerged in an email written by former Scorpions investigator Isak du Plooy to his senior colleagues, including the head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, Willie Hofmeyr, and the then state prosecutor, Billy Downer, following the raids. Du Plooy's email was seen by the M&G this week.

Du Plooy established that, at 2am on the morning of the dawn raid, five cars arrived at the Hlongwane Consulting offices.

"One lady and four guys entered Hlongwane Consulting and came out with four big boxes, loaded the boxes in the cars and left again at 3.30am," he wrote in his email dated December?18 2008.

Hlongwane is central to the allegations of corruption surrounding the arms deal. The Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom alleged he was paid £5-million (about R65-million at the time) in connection with South Africa's purchase of 52 Hawk trainer aircraft and Saab Gripen fighter jets.

Two payments of commission to Hlongwane were authorised just before South Africa signed the final contracts in 1999.

The contract was awarded to a consortium headed by British Aerospace (BAE) Systems, but the British defence giant was unable to produce satisfactory evidence of legitimate services performed by their agents.

Payments
When the covert payments were made to the agents, Hlongwane was still working for Modise, although he later resigned from this post.

Hlongwane is alleged to have received payments through a number of financial vehicles, according to Serious Fraud Office documents seen by the M&G. These included payments through BAE and Sanip, a local company set up by BAE and Swedish company Saab, as well as two covert vehicles, Arstow Commercial Corporation, registered in the British Virgin Islands, and Commercial International Corporation, registered in Jersey.

Although the now defunct Scorpions, formally known as the Directorate of Special Operations, clearly had Hlongwane in its sights, few documents were seized in the raids on his premises.

In his email, Du Plooy wrote that, after the Scorpions raided, he had tried to meet a security guard at Hlongwane Consulting in Illovo but the guard did not turn up for the  appointment.

However, the investigator established that, at 2am, five people entered the offices, appeared with four boxes and left 90 minutes later.

Also, little documentation was seized at Hlongwane's luxurious house in Hyde Park during another raid on the same day, Du Plooy said. Evidence had allegedly been removed from his house before the raid.

Du Plooy said in the email he had followed up on an article that had appeared in the Citizen about the raids. In it, Chris Bathembu wrote about the alleged removal of documents from Hlongwane's house on December 1 2008.

'Absolute rubbish'
Du Plooy claimed he spoke to the reporter who told him to contact the former editor of the Financial Mail and Business Day and managing director of Times Media, Stephen Mulholland, who lived in the same street as Hlongwane.

But Bathembu, who now works for the Government Communication and Information System, said this week he had not spoken to the Scorpions investigator.

Du Plooy wrote in the email that he had contacted Mulholland, who said he had not seen the removal of any evidence from Hlongwane's house but had heard about it from his friends in his street. They claimed there had been "a lot of activity" between 1am and 3am at Hlongwane's house, shortly before the dawn raid.

Hlongwane's lawyer, Christo Stockenstrom, said the allegations that his client had been tipped off and had removed evidence before the raids was "absolute rubbish".

"It is a load of nonsense. The Scorpions phoned me from the premises and said they were going to raid. They asked me to come and open up for them."

Stockenstrom said that the accusations that his client had taken bribes were false.

"He was simply paid money for services rendered," he said.

But Saab admitted in 2011 that BAE Systems had irregularly channelled payments to a South African consultant, who is believed to be Hlongwane. BAE has denied the payments made were bribes.

Du Plooy, who is now a forensics manager at Deloitte, declined to comment on the raids. "I am sorry but I just can't say anything," he said.

The investigator quit his job shortly after he wrote the email.

Du Plooy was one of the lead investigators on the investigation into Zuma, and there were fears that after his departure from the Scorpions this prosecution might be compromised.

The charges brought against Zuma were eventually dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority in 2009.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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