/ 11 August 2014

Resignations take arms deal probe from mess to ‘farce’

The leaked joint resignation letter of advocates Barry Skinner SC and Carol Sibiya has revealed the arms deal commission to be 'farcical'
The leaked joint resignation letter of advocates Barry Skinner SC and Carol Sibiya has revealed the arms deal commission to be 'farcical'

The leaked joint resignation letter of advocates Barry Skinner SC and Carol Sibiya has revealed the arms deal commission to be “farcical”, according to retired banker Terry Crawford-Browne.

In 2011 Crawford-Browne approached the Constitutional Court in a bid to force President Jacob Zuma to set up a commission of inquiry into alleged corruption in the multibillion-rand 1999 arms deal.

“It continues to be a mess and it is really farcical,” Crawford-Browne said from Instanbul in Turkey, where he is attending a conference. “I have been called to testify, but those are my evidence leaders that have now resigned.”

The two advocates who quit as evidence leaders of the Arms Procurement Commission two weeks ago gave a damning insight into the inner workings of the investigation.

M&G releases letter
The Mail & Guardian on Monday released the full 15-page letter, which seems to back the view of most critics that the commission is nothing but a cover-up of corruption in the arms deal.

Skinner and Sibiya say:

• Commission chairperson Willie Seriti denied them the right to re-examine witnesses, even though it was a crucial part of their job;

• Vital documentary evidence was withheld from them;

• The commission’s so-called hatchet man, Fanyana Mdumbe, led an “attack” on Richard Young, a man described by Skinner and Sibiya as “an extremely important witness”; and

• They were aware of duplicity at the commission.

They also criticised Seriti’s decision not to permit as evidence a damning leaked report that showed that German arms dealer Ferrostaal paid R300-million, through a web of middlemen and offshore accounts, allegedly to influence senior politicians to secure the sale of submarines to South Africa.

Sibiya and Skinner said that for Seriti to deny the admission of documents such as the report into evidence “nullifies the very purpose for which the commission was set up”.

Quitting the commission
The two advocates join a growing list of senior legal figures who quit the commission in the past 18 months and expressed disquiet in public or to their colleagues about the clandestine way in which the commission was being run. They include commissioner Judge Francis Legodi, senior investigator and attorney Mokgale Norman Moabi, principal legal researcher attorney Kate Painting and evidence leader Tayob Aboobaker. 

The resignations snowballed after Moabi claimed in his resignation letter that the commission had a “second agenda”. Those who left claimed this was to protect members of the ANC, including President Jacob Zuma, from being implicated.

Hennie Van Vuuren, a research associate at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, will appear before the Arms Procurement Commission soon. “Based on the letter, I am reviewing the impact on my evidence before the commission,” said Van Vuuren. “Other witnesses, who want the truth told, are no doubt doing the same.”

Van Vuuren said the resignation by advocates Sibiya and Skinner was a “radical step”.

“It was also brave and principled because, as lawyers, they clearly refuse to draw a salary from a commission whose integrity they believe has been deeply undermined. They, together with Judge Legodi and four other senior legal figures, have helped shine the light on the many internal troubles, and allegations of a second agenda within the commission. If the grounds for their resignation is correct, Judge Seriti owes an explanation to the public, who rightly now fear another cover-up of the arms deal secrets,” asked Van Vuuren.

The co-author, with Paul Holden, of Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything, Van Vuuren said the question Judge Seriti must answer is: Whose interests will his commission serve? “Is it the powerful with the corporations and political establishment who benefited from the arms deal – or the people of South Africa who demand the right to know the truth?” he asked.

Alleged duplicity
The advocate’s resignation letter outlines their experiences of alleged duplicity at the commission. The final straw was “an attack” on Young by Mdumbe at the meeting on July 21, the day assigned for him to give evidence at thehearings.

In a speech he made at the hearings, Mdumbe failed to disclose that Young had made it known he would be unavailable on that date, they said.

Young is still waiting for the commission to come back to him to ask him why it can’t print the 1 061 documents of evidence he gave Mdumbe on a disk. In their resignation letter, Skinner and Sibiya said Mdumbe withheld the disk from them, even though they were Young’s evidence leaders.

“It wasn’t a matter of not being able to open the document, but not being able to print,” he clarified. “I inadvertently in Acrobat Action Wizard set the document restrictions to ‘no print’ in addition to ‘no changes’. But the last laugh is still intact because it means that neither Mdumbe, nor the Armscor, nor the department of defence legal teams could have printed one single one of them to paper form – which is required for the collation of an evidence bundle.”

Young said the Arms Procurement Commission owes him six months of his life for discovering and producing all the documents, which were then withheld from his own evidence leaders Skinner and Sibiya.

Commission hits back at Skinner and Sibiya claims:
The commission’s spokesperson William Baloyi has confirmed that Seriti did point out in one of the hearings that the regulations made provision only for re-examination by witnesses’ legal representatives and not by evidence leaders. “Nonetheless, evidence leaders have been routinely allowed to re-examine the witnesses and the record of the commission’s proceedings thus far will confirm this.”

The commission’s response to advocate Fanyana Mdumbe being accused by Barry Skinner and Carol Sibiya of withholding evidence, and allocating Richard Young a day when he had already said he was unavailable:
Baloyi said the commission “categorically denied” that Mdumbe had withheld evidence from the evidence leaders.

Young’s failure to appear on July 21 2014 and the reasons for this formed part of the commission’s record, he said. “There clearly was a difference of opinion on the matter between advocate Skinner and advocate Mdumbe and it had been necessary to put all of this on record.

“Otherwise the letter of resignation referred to is a confidential communication between the advocates concerned and the commission and we will not discuss it in the media.

“Richard Young is still earmarked to testify before the commission and we will not discuss in the media matters relating to his evidence,” said Baloyi.