Arms probe head: 'No holds barred'
Allaying fears that South Africa's multibillion-rand arms deal inquiry is nothing but a white elephant, commission head Judge Willie Seriti warned that nothing would be allowed to get in the way of the truth.
For weeks there has been speculation about the "letting go" of inquiry evidence leaders advocates Vas Soni and Sthembiso Mdlala.
The two were named evidence leaders after the establishment of the Arms Procurement Commission by President Jacob Zuma in February.
They were released from their duties after information about them was received that would, according to Seriti, affect the commission's work.
"I received information which indicated it would be inappropriate to work with them."
Speaking in Pretoria yesterday, Seriti declined to elaborate on the information.
Public hearings by the commission are set to be held across South Africa from January.
Playing his cards close to his chest, Seriti said the commission had been given two years to complete its task.
"But, given the vast amount of information out there, and the fact that we have only gathered a quarter of it, this process is likely to take at least three years."
Outlining the progress made by the commission, Seriti said it had appointed 10 evidence leaders, some of the country's greatest legal minds.
"It is these minds which will help us to find the truth, no matter what or where it is."
He said the inquiry had not reached the stage "where we have to compel people to give us information. We have sent written requests to both foreign and South African agencies, institutes and organisations.
"We have received positive responses from the foreign agencies who want to work with us. The kind of evidence we are seeking from foreign agencies relates to plea bargains and convictions of certain people in different countries," he said.
Asked to name people the commission had sent letters to, Seriti declined.
"We've sent letters of request to virtually everyone we think has documents relating to our mandate."
Letters of request have been sent to 15 different organisations.
"These range from parliament, the cabinet, Armscor, Denel, the Treasury, the defence force and financial institutions."
The financial institutions were asked to provide information on money trails relating to the multibillion-rand arms procurement.
Seriti declined to comment on the inquiry's scope.
"The information we receive will determine this. We have limitations, but these are only over who we can subpoena. We can only subpoena those whom we think have information for us."
He said the commission had the necessary powers to get to the truth.
"We can conduct searches and seizures. No one has told us information is classified and we will not let anything stand in our way in getting to the truth. There is no limitation on the information which we can pursue."
He said the c ommission's terms of reference, which could be amended, gave it a "permit" to look at whatever it thinks is relevant .