Mbeki's lawyer withdraws from arms commission

Former president Thabo Mbeki's lawyer has withdrawn from the arms deal commisson. (M&G)

Former president Thabo Mbeki's lawyer has withdrawn from the arms deal commisson. (M&G)

Boqwana asked the commission on Tuesday to allow him to withdraw as attorney of record. Mbeki will be called as a witness next year. 

Advocate Max Boqwana told the commission that the reasons for his withdrawal related to “issues that have not been resolved”. He did not elaborate on what these issues were.

Evidence leader Tshepo Sibeko SC confirmed that there had been engagements with Boqwana. " ...
We have no objection to his withdrawal," Sibeko said.

Commission chairperson Judge Willie Seriti said the legal representation of witnesses fell outside the commission's ambit.

Witnesses could have their own legal representation at their own cost.

Meanwhile, a bid by arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne to cut short the work of the commission of inquiry was rejected on Tuesday.

Commissioner Judge Thekiso Musi said Crawford-Browne's application to the commission asked it to ignore its terms of reference. "This application is an invitation to the commission to abandon its terms of reference. It's not attainable," he said.

Crawford-Browne read a letter to the commission on Tuesday in which he lodged various complaints and made a number of suggestions. Seriti said he received the letter on Monday.

Crawford-Browne said there were 23 points in the letter. 

Musi went through some of the points and his objections to them. Crawford-Browne had asked, among other things, that the commission write to President Jacob Zuma stating that the arms deal contracts were illegal.

"This is the matter of investigation. There isn't any conclusive evidence on this point," Musi said.

Crawford-Browne alleged that some of the equipment bought was inoperable and sitting in storage and called for all contracts to be cancelled.

Musi said these were allegations the defence force had been called to clarify.

"This can't be regarded as fact," he said. Contracts could not be cancelled on the basis of allegations.

"Before making findings and recommendations we need to investigate the alleged bribery and fraud. We can't make recommendations before."

He said there was no merit to Crawford-Browne's application and Musi recommended that Seriti dismiss it.

Seriti said he was not inclined to grant the application. "Therefore his request is rejected."

Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multibillion-rand arms deal.

SANDF testimony
On Tuesday, the commission heard that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was crippled by lack of equipment.

Rear Admiral Alan Green addressed the commission on the rationale behind the controversial strategic defence procurement package and the use of the equipment acquired.

When the new dispensation came in 1994, the SANDF was established in place of the old South African Defence Force (SADF).

"We were then in a position where all of us were integrated into the SANDF. The primary equipment we had at the time was from the SADF and that equipment was at the end of its life cycle. That was due to the sanctions that were imposed on the country prior to '94," he said.

After democracy, there was a need to rejuvenate the defence force's equipment.

"During that period I served in the navy and I don't have first-hand information about the precise state of equipment in the air force. However, I was aware that they also required rejuvenation," said Green.

"Any equipment used extensively requires extensive maintenance – our equipment had been extensively used both at sea and in the air. That is why I said there was dire need for equipment."

On Monday, evidence leader Ramagaga Matshego said government departments and entities would be called to testify on their roles in the arms acquisition process.

She said the South African navy, air force and arms procurement parastatal Armscor would address the commission on the use or non-use of the equipment.

The trade and industry department is set to give evidence on the creation of jobs and offsets which were anticipated to flow from the arms deal. – Sapa

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