Arms deal inquiry: It’s a wrap

Judge Willie Seriti made his final remarks at the close of the commission on Monday, and the official, final day of the commission, was Tuesday.

Seriti said the commission had heard 56 witnesses since its establishment in November, 2011. He said the commission’s work had “not been plain sailing” but that the commission believed it had managed to overcome its obstacles.

The commission was supposed to complete its work within 12 months but its term was repeatedly extended. Seriti said the commission would probably hand its report to President Jacob Zuma in December this year.

The commission began with a series of high-profile resignations. Researcher Kate Painting resigned in March 2013.

In a statement released to the Mail & Guardian shortly afterwards, Painting said: “Fear is a common theme at the commission and any non-compliance with the second agenda is met with hostility.”

The third commissioner, Judge Francis Legodi, resigned in August that year. He did not give reasons for his resignation, and the commission continued with two commissioners.

But it was the resignation of Norman Moabi, a senior investigator at the commission, in January 2013, that really shone a light into the commission’s inner-workings. Moabi also accused Seriti of operating with a “second agenda”. He challenged Seriti to take a lie detector test, and said he would also take one. Seriti did not oblige. Moabi accused Seriti of having a “total obsession” with the flow of information, amongst other things.

Then, in August last year, two evidence leaders, Barry Skinner SC and Carol Sibiya, resigned. Two weeks later, their damning resignation letter was reported in the media. The two complained that they were not given access to key documents, and that they were prevented from cross-examining witnesses.

And they were critical of a decision by Seriti that a report into an arms company, Ferrostaal’s activities, was not allowed to be introduced as evidence.

Seriti said the report was confidential and Ferrostaal had not waived confidentiality. The report shows how Ferrostaal paid R300-million to middlemen, allegedly to influence the sale of submarines to South Africa.

As the commission progressed, so-called “critics” of the arms deal began to signal that all was not well. Dr Richard Young, a fierce critic of the arms deal, told the Mail & Guardian he believed witnesses at the commission were committing “perjury by omission”.

Fearful that witnesses were not being thoroughly cross-examined, author Paul Holden cross-examined a witness. He, too, believed that a one-sided narrative was emerging: during the commission’s early days, witnesses from the army and the navy were not properly being interrogated. Holden’s colleagues, authors Andrew Feinstein and Hennie van Vuuren, joined Holden and Young in complaining that they were not given adequate time or access to mountains of documentation necessary for preparing for their evidence.

Holden, Van Vuuren and Feinstein later withdrew their participation in the commission.

Fears abounded that the “critics” were being set up as conspirators, and that the commission was not prepared to engage with evidence: leaked reports and prior official investigations that suggested corruption.

Meanwhile, former cabinet ministers Alec Erwin, Ronnie Kasrils, Trevor Manuel and Thabo Mbeki told the commission that the entire deal was above board. As did the arms companies, and counsel for the alleged “middle-man”, Fana Hlongwane, Jaap Cilliers. In his closing statement on Monday, Cilliers said there was no evidence of corruption. Indeed, the evidence that the critics say exists was largely not presented to the commission.

The commission has maintained that it was not a forensic inquiry but merely a “fact-finding mission”.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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