There is little wonder President Zuma expressed his “sincere gratitude and appreciation” to the Chairman of the Arms Procurement Commission, Judge Willie Seriti, for his findings released on Thursday that “not a single iota of evidence was placed before it” showing that bribes had been paid to consultants, public officials or members of Cabinet in the 1999 R90-billion Arms Deal. Zuma, after all, has been deeply implicated in the deal. Opposition party members were unanimous in their condemnation of the findings, calling it a “whitewash” and “an insult to the intelligence of South Africans”. By MARIANNE THAMM.
Cape Town mayor, Patricia De Lille, the original Arms Deal whistleblower, was first out of the gates after President Zuma plodded his way through the favourable findings of the long-awaited, costly and compromised Arms Procurement Commission, headed by Judge Willie Seriti and released on Thursday.
“It was a whitewash aimed at protecting one man, Jacob Zuma. We knew when the commission was started it already had predetermined outcome. The only thing Judge Seriti had to do was to design a process to confirm that outcome,” she said.
She added that the commission, which cost R110-million, had been a total waste of taxpayers’ money.
“The dossier that I took to Parliament in September 1999 led to two prosecutions, Tony Yengeni and Shabir Shaik. Where is Shabir Shaik today? He was found guilty, he was put in jail and then released. He is still very much alive out there and the evidence in his case was heavily weighed against Zuma. When charges were brought against President Jacob Zuma, more than 750, that is when the NPA decided not to prosecute him. I put my faith in our own independence of our judiciary because the Constitutional Court must decide later on this year whether they are going to charge President Jacob Zuma or not. They think that after 17 or 18 years South Africans have forgotten about it. We have not. We know that this whole commission was a whitewash,” said De Lille.
DA former Shadow Minister on Defence and Military Veterans, David Maynier, who also appeared as a witness before the commission, said that “today, the expectation that those who were implicated in arms deal corruption, including President Jacob Zuma himself, had nothing to fear from the Arms Procurement Commission, has been proven correct”.
Maynier said that despite acknowledging that it had discretion on the issue, the Arms Procurement Commission refused to admit crucial documents, such as the final report by Debevoise & Plimpton, following a compliance investigation into Ferrostaal, which was part of the German Submarine Consortium.
“The final report, prepared by Debevoise & Plimpton, revealed that Ferrostaal, itself, was concerned about ‘questionable and improper payments’ to its own consultants. The Arms Procurement Commission rejected the allegations in the final report of Debevoise & Plimpton. However, there appears to be no explanation as to why employees of Ferrostaal, alleged to be involved in ‘questionable and improper payments’, were not interviewed, and the allegations not properly investigated,” said Maynier.
He added that the Arms Procurement Commission “made no real effort to investigate the allegations contained in crucial documents” and that in the end “the final report is a massive disappointment because those, who were implicated in arms deal corruption, have effectively been let off the hook”.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said the findings of the Seriti Commission “has not surprised anyone. It only adds to the shelves of South Africa, another white-washed report whose objective is nothing less than clearing comrades from Luthuli House”.
He said memories were “still fresh from the damning findings of the Durban High Court, in which evidence carried in the notorious encrypted fax, recording an alleged arms deal bribe to the then Deputy President of the country from the French arms giant, Thales. This piece of evidence was successfully admitted, used in court and led to the conviction of Mr Schabir Shaik. In the judgment that followed, Mr Zuma was implicated. It is very disturbing that the report is conspicuously quiet on this,” said Holomisa.
He said it was “mysterious” that President Zuma had not testified at the commission even though he allegedly accepted a bribe from Thales.
“We are also not told about the luxurious vehicles that were bought for various Luthuli House comrades who were connected to the arms deal procurement processes. In fact, we are not told whether the commission, during its independent investigation, did take advantage of various investigations and findings conducted by other countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and France.”
Holomisa said German detectives had found a copy of the agreement when they raided ThyssenKrupp, the German engineering conglomerate which led the consortium that sold four patrol corvettes to South Africa for R6.9-billion. The bribe agreement was reported to be R6-million.
“We note the timing of the release of the report, which is on the eve of highly contested local government elections. The ruling party is in dire need of a relief for it to be taken seriously by the electorate. It enters this campaign on the back foot due to its corrupt activities including the flouting of the Constitution. This report comes as a tool to strengthen their compromised campaign,” concluded Holomisa.
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe on Thursday confirmed that last week’s Cabinet meeting had been briefed on the arms deal commission of inquiry and that “we trust that the findings will bring closure to this long drawn out matter”, he told a media briefing on Thursday.
Radebe said he hoped journalists would read the report of the commission of inquiry, which had brought out “the truth”.
“It is not a white-wash,” Radebe said in response to questions. “The terms of references were broad enough. The commissioners went out of their way to call all the whistle-blowers, including those who wrote books…”
Corruption Watch’s legal head, Leanne Govindsamy, said the process had been compromised from the start, “a situation that had shown itself in the manner in which Lawyers for Human Rights withdrew. Certain documents they needed were not being made available, and others were not allowed to be brought before the commission. Although they wanted to participate they decided not to,” she said.
She added that Corruption Watch was not surprised by the findings but that it was disappointed.
“We did expect a little more, though – some sort of accountability even if only on the part of companies involved, a number of which have been investigated across the world. But there was no real engagement with the issues at hand because the commission seemed to admit only those documents that would support the findings that it has, in fact, made. The findings have also shown just how far South African citizens and civil society still have to go in terms of successfully holding government to account.”
President Zuma announced the findings on Thursday after the final report had been handed to him in December 2015… a rather busy time for the president as he was in the process of firing Minister of Finance, Nhlanhla Nene, and being forced to rehire Pravin Gordhan.
After the extensive process of gathering information from various sources the commission made findings that the rationale for the costly arms deal package “was necessary for the South African National Defence Force to acquire the equipment it procured in order to carry out its constitutional mandate and international obligations of peace support and peace-keeping”.
Judge Seriti had also found that “all the arms and equipment acquired are well-utilised” and that “the projected number of jobs to be created through the arms procurement process was achieved”.
On whether the off-sets anticipated to flow from the arms procurement have materialised, President Zuma said the commission had found that “it was fair to conclude that the anticipated offsets have substantially materialised”.
“On whether any person or persons improperly influenced the award or conclusion of any of the contracts in the procurement process, the commission found that the evidence presented before does not suggest that undue or improper influence played any role in the selection of the preferred bidders, which ultimately entered into contracts with the Government.”
And: “On whether any contract concluded through the procurement process is tainted by any fraud or corruption, the commission states that the widespread allegations of bribery, corruption and fraud in the arms procurement process, especially in relation to the selection of the preferred bidders and costs, have found no support or corroboration in the evidence, oral or documentary, placed before the commission.”
And further: “The commission points out that the large payments made to consultants gave an impression that the money may have been destined to decision-makers in the arms procurement process and that they may have been bribed. The fact that some of the consultants knew or had personal contact with some of the senior politicians in the government of the day was cited as corroboration.”
And then unsurprisingly: “On this point, the commission states that not a single iota of evidence was placed before it, showing that any of the money received by any of the consultants was paid to any officials involved in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package, let alone any of the members of the Inter-Ministerial Committee that oversaw the process, or any member of the Cabinet that took the final decisions, nor is there any circumstantial evidence pointing to this. The commission states that the preferred bidders confirmed that the money was for the consultant’s services and nothing else. Some of the individuals implicated in the allegations of wrongdoing gave evidence before the commission and refuted the allegations and insinuation levelled against them. None of them was discredited as a witness.”
Members of the Inter-Ministerial Committee that oversaw the whole process and recommended preferred bidders to the full Cabinet, which approved the recommendations unaltered, said Zuma, had given evidence before the commission and “refuted any suggestions that they may have been bribed or unduly influenced in any way whatsoever to take the decisions they took. None of them was discredited as a witness”.
The president said that other than the Lead-in Fighter Trainer (LIFT) programme, the Inter-Ministerial Committee had “accepted, unaltered, the results of the evaluations produced by the technical teams and recommended to the full Cabinet, the preferred bidders identified by the technical evaluations”.
“Moreover, says the commission, there was no evidence that such decision was tainted by any improper motives or criminal shenanigans.”
Shenanigans: “Secret or dishonest activities, usually of a complicated and humorous or interesting type” (Cambridge Dictionary)
President Zuma said that ultimately the commission had found that there had been no room “to draw adverse inferences” and that it had not made, unsurprisingly, any recommendations that law enforcement agencies take further action.
“We also wish to thank the evidence leaders, the legal teams, all the witnesses, staff members of the commission and all those who contributed to making the work of the commission a success,” said Zuma.
In March this year the High Court in Pretoria reserved judgment in the DA court action which seeks a review of a decision to drop charges of corruption (related to the arms deal) against President Jacob Zuma in 2008. A decision on the matter is expected soon and depending on this the matter will most certainly head for the Supreme Court of Appeal before wending its way ultimately to the Constitutional Court.
It might be over for now, but it won’t be over till the ConCourt makes its final ruling on the matter, whenever that may be. DM
Photo: A South African Airforce helicopter flies above the new South African Navy submarine SAS Queen Modjadji as it arrives in Simonstown, South Africa, 22 May 2008. This is the latest submarine supplied by German shipping company Thyssen Krupp Marine to South Africa. The Class 209 submarine is one of three that were part of the massive 4.8 billion US dollars (3 billion euro) South Africa spent modernising its military when the United Nations arms sanctions were lifted at the end of apartheid. EPA/NIC BOTHMA.