/ 24 November 2014

Key arms deal middleman ‘not ready’ to testify

Fana Hlongwane was 'not ready' to appear at the arms deal commission
Fana Hlongwane was 'not ready' to appear at the arms deal commission

Fana Hlongwane, adviser to a democratic South Africa’s first defence minister, the late Joe Modise, failed to appear at the arms deal commission on Monday.

It appears that Hlongwane was “not ready” to appear, although his name has been on the witness list for several weeks. As late as Sunday night, the commission’s spokesperson, William Baloyi, was confident that Hlongwane would appear and give his evidence.

The reasons for the delay are not clear, but advocate Francois van Zyl SC, appearing on behalf of Hlongwane, told the commission on Monday: “He is not ready. We were not properly notified, but we have now sorted that out. The fact of the matter is that Mr Hlongwane has indicated that he wants to come and give evidence.”

The commission notified the press of Hlongwane’s appearance date more than a month ago on its website.

Judging from Van Zyl’s remarks – that Hlongwane’s lawyers had yet to peruse the documents the evidence leaders intended to use during his testimony – it follows that Hlongwane’s witness statement is also not yet prepared. This has been a perennial problem at the commission – witness statements are typically only submitted to the commission on the eve of a witness’s evidence.

Handsomely paid
It is not clear what evidence the commission wants to elicit from Hlongwane. But judging from the evidence of previous witnesses, questioning might centre more around proper procedure than improper payments.

The controversy that has haunted Hlongwane since his resignation as Modise’s adviser in 1999, is that he was a middleman during the arms deal negotiations, for which he was handsomely paid.

BAE Systems, which won the contract to supply Hawk and Gripen aircraft to South Africa, employed Hlongwane as a consultant in 2001.

The case against Hlongwane is supposedly contained in documents from three investigating authorities: the now-disbanded Scorpions (a multidisciplinary South African agency that investigated and prosecuted organised crime and corruption), Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), and Liechtenstein investigators.

Hlongwane was reportedly “dumped” by BAE in 2007 following the start of the SFO’s investigation into the South African arms deal.

The Scorpions raided his home the following year, but attempts to seize his offshore assets were scuppered. Hlongwane allegedly earned some R200-million in consultancy fees during his stint as a BAE consultant.

BAE was apparently concerned about the negative press its relationship with Hlongwane received. Although both parties have been less than eager to comment on the allegations, they both maintain that Hlongwane was merely paid for services rendered.

But it was Hlongwane’s pre-2001 “consultations” that sparked the SFO’s interest. It was reported that he received about R65-million in connection with South Africa’s purchase of 52 Hawk trainer aircraft and Saab Gripen fighter jets.

The payments are alleged to have been made through several businesses – Hlongwane’s own consultancy vehicle as well as offshore accounts, and a BAE subsidiary.

Meanwhile, Liechtenstein authorities launched their own investigation into Hlongwane after noticing suspicious payments from banking authorities. Hlongwane also reportedly held an account in another tax haven, the British Virgin Isles.