Arms deal terms welcomed
Companies and individuals suspected of benefiting from dodgy weapons contracts are expected to be subpoenaed by the commission set up to investigate the R60-billion arms deal when it begins its work soon.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe yesterday announced wide-ranging terms of reference for the commission headed by Judge Willie Seriti. The commission, with an initial budget of R40-million, has the power to:
- Subpoena witnesses;
- Compel those subpoenaed to answer questions; and
- Search and seize assets.
The commission also has the power to recommend action against any person found to have improperly influenced the awarding of arms deal contracts, and to determine if the state can recoup any money lost as a result of arms deal corruption.
Those who refuse to appear before the commission face a fine or imprisonment of between six and 12 months.
The commission can also recommend, if there is proof, that contracts awarded fraudulently or as a result of undue influence, be cancelled.
The commission will be based in Johannesburg but will hold public hearings in other areas - including overseas - to speak to as many witnesses as possible.
Last year, head of the Hawks crim- fighting unit Anwar Dramat told parliament that it could take up to 10 years and cost up to R10-million to investigate and prosecute those who benefited.
More than R480-million in bribes is believed to have been paid by companies for the supply of aircraft and vessels.
Radebe said the commission had the power to subpoena anyone, including ministers.
The commission will have a full secretariat and a team of seasoned legal eagles to assist in leading and assessing evidence presented before it.
The advocates - handpicked by Seriti - are Vas Soni, Sthembiso Mdladla and Mahlape Sello.
It will submit bi-annual reports to President Jacob Zuma before handing over a full report.
Its work will cover the entire 14- year period from when the idea of buying arms was mooted to the latest revelations of bribery and corruption.
It will look at the rationale behind the strategic defence procurement packages; whether the arms purchased were being underutilised and whether the thousands of jobs promised and offsets that were expected from arms deal contracts materialised.
The Hawks are under pressure to investigate allegations that surfaced in a German newspaper in August that German arms manufacturer Ferrostaal paid R300-million in bribes to secure contracts to supply submarines.
The German Submarine Consortium, which included Ferrostaal, supplied three Class 209 diesel-electric submarines to SA for R5.35-billion as part of the 1999 strategic defence package.
Although no evidence has been presented linking him directly, businessman Fana Hlongwane - former adviser to late defence minister Joe Modise - allegedly received generous "commissions" from arms maker BAE, which has secured several arms deal contracts.
A number of investigations, including a joint initiative between the auditor-general, the public protector and parliament's standing committee on public accounts, have so far failed to yield enough evidence to prosecute those who benefited from dodgy contracts.
ANC leader Tony Yengeni was the only one who was jailed for receiving bribes, directly or indirectly, from European arms manufacturers.
Zuma was charged following the conviction of his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, for allegedly securing bribes from Thint, the South African subsidiary of French arms giant Thales, and paying about R750000 to Zuma.
The charges were dropped shortly before he became president.
Radebe could not say whether Zuma or former president Thabo Mbeki would be subpoenaed.
The Sunday Times reported that Ferrostaal had allegedly given Mbeki R30-million in bribes in 2008. He is alleged to have given R2-million to Zuma and the rest to the ANC.
Arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne welcomed the terms of reference, but said he would have preferred retired judges to form the core of the commission.
"We have got some concern that the appointment of sitting judges may be challenged [by arms companies], which would raise questions about the legality of the commission," he said.
Andrew Feinstein, the ANC MP who was forced to resign from the party in 2001 for supporting an investigation into the arms deal, said the terms of reference appeared "quite good" .
But Feinstein said he was also "slightly worried" its reports were going to Zuma before they would be made public. - Additional reporting by Charl du Plessis