Mbeki distances his administration from Yengeni, Shaik corruption convictions

Former president Thabo Mbeki. (David Harrison, M&G)

Former president Thabo Mbeki. (David Harrison, M&G)

Former president Thabo Mbeki has distanced his administration from Schabir Shaik’s fraud and corruption conviction, saying it had nothing to do with the arms procurement process.

Similarly, fraudster Tony Yengeni’s conviction did not prove there was corruption in the arms deal.

Shaik was President Jacob Zuma’s accountant and was found to have acted fraudulently and corruptly in the relationship.

At a rare press conference, held at the Thabo Mbeki Foundation in Johannesburg on Monday, Mbeki also hinted that Zuma must go.

Responding to a question on the matter, Mbeki said South Africa needed to have a national dialogue and look honestly at the problems, and if this led to a call for Zuma to go then “let that be one of the outcomes”.

The Democratic Alliance has pushed to reinstate the 783 corruption, fraud and racketeering charges against Zuma, which were linked to Shaik. The charges were dropped shortly before Zuma became president in 2009.

Mbeki fielded questions about the government’s defence procurement which was initiated under Nelson Mandela’s watch and concluded under Mbeki’s.

He said it frustrated and upset him that people still continued to allege corruption regarding the procurement of arms.

Last week Zuma released the Seriti Commission of Inquiry report which found no evidence of corruption and was dismissed by opposition parties as a “whitewash”.

Mbeki defended the commission’s findings, saying “the manner in which the process was handled, you have to understand if there was any corruption in that process, you would have two institutions responsible. One would be the interministerial committee that I chaired, that would discuss (the procurement) and make recommendations to government.
So the interministerial committee and government would be guilty of corruption if there was corruption.”

‘Yengeni’s luxury car deal not linked’
Mbeki said Yengeni’s conviction of fraud and imprisonment in 2006 related to not declaring to Parliament a discount he received on a Mercedes, which was one of 32 sold at a discount to prominent “people here at home … to promote their products”.

“I still don’t understand for the life of me why anyone is saying this had anything to do with the defence procurement,” Mbeki said

Yengeni was head of Parliament’s portfolio committee on defence at the time, and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company admitted to helping him and the others acquire these luxury cars, prompting reports to link his conviction to the arms deal.

At the time there was talk of him being offered up as a scapegoat so that others could escape conviction.

But Mbeki said “it has absolutely nothing to do with the defence procurement, absolutely zero”.

Mbeki said similarly the 2005 corruption conviction of Shaik, Zuma’s former financial adviser, happened after the arms deal had been signed.

“Whatever it is they say, Schabir and (French arms company) Thales had absolutely, absolutely, absolutely no relationship with the processing of this agreement for the defence procurement – its negotiation, its conclusion, its signing, absolutely nothing,” he said.

“It is not in the least connected to the defence procurement, but why do we then say this proves corruption? I don’t know.”

‘African governments stereotyped as corrupt ‘
Mbeki repeated his call that anyone with information on corruption during the actual procurement process to “please produce it”.

He said what upset him the most was “the stereotype that African governments are in general corrupt and therefore this government is corrupt. You know people shout for one and a half decades and at every opportunity to substantiate allegations, they don’t do that, but they won’t hesitate to repeat there was corruption.”

Mbeki also warned that the law that affects commissions of inquiry “prohibits statements and all that which are personally hostile to commissioners”. He said that was fine to discuss the report, but “you can’t denigrate the commissioners, and then people here do that”.

Shortly before his press conference – which was meant to be an update about the work he and an African Union panel have done on illicit financial outflows from Africa – Mbeki released an  online letter in which he said the “arms deal” should be known as “defence procurement”, because the former implied wrongdoing.

“You know, I’ve been trying to say to everybody there was never an arms deal. You know, to use the phrase ‘arms deal’, you mean something crooked. I will start by saying we can stop saying ‘arms deal’. There was no arms deal, there was a defence procurement.”

Mbeki said soon after the preferred bidders were announced, allegations of corruption arose. It was then that a joint investigation team was established, consisting of the auditor general, the national director of public prosecutions, and the public protector.

He said that in his view this team did a thorough investigation, and “didn’t find any corruption”.

‘No hard facts or proof’
Mbeki said he refused to set up a commission of inquiry, because nobody could come with concrete facts or proof that there might have been corruption.

Zuma set up such a commission because of the threat of a Constitutional Court case.

“It’s done its work, come to [the] same conclusion as [the] investigation team, but allegations continue.

“It’s very frustrating because the people who make the allegations are unable to produce one single substantial fact to support the allegations.”

He said people should visit the commission’s website to read transcripts of the evidence given and to see the documents for themselves.

“It becomes really frustrating – I’m using a mild word – when the same person who could not produce a single fact of corruption at the commission pops up now and says there was corruption,” he said.

Three critics –Hennie van Vuuren, Andrew Feinstein and Paul Holden – refused to testify during the hearings because they questioned the commission’s impartiality.

No arms deal, but there was defence procurement – MbekiThe former president has backed the Seriti inquiry, saying there has never been evidence of any wrongdoing by the government or individuals.

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