Arms whistleblower loses faith in probe

17 July 2013 - 02:14 By QUINTON MTYALA
Richard Young outside the Cape High Court on the 9th June 2003.
Richard Young outside the Cape High Court on the 9th June 2003.
Image: Gallo Images / Business Day / Trevor Samson

Arms-deal whistleblower Richard Young said the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the R70-billion deal would end inconclusively if he were unable to cross-examine former president Thabo Mbeki, cabinet minister Trevor Manuel and former minister Alec Erwin.

Yesterday the commission said Mbeki would testify in the first phase of the Arms Procurement Commission hearings.

It said the first phase of the commission's work would "deal with the rationale for the s trategic d efence procurement p ackage" and would include an investigation into whether the arms and equipment acquired were under-utilised .

The commission will hold public hearings from August 5 to January 31, subject to President Jacob Zuma extending its mandate beyond November.

Young, the Cape Town businessman whose company lost out on a multimillion-rand contract to supply combat suites for the navy's corvettes, said he would not be allowed to cross-examine the three politicians because they were "scene-setting" witnesses.

He said he had little confidence that the commission would get to the bottom of the alleged multimillion-rand frauds in which former defence minister Joe Modise, Modise's adviser, Fana Hlongwane, and others have been implicated.

Young said he had made a "fairly substantial" response to the Seriti Commission, the start of which has been delayed.

"Most of the time I was doing their work for them but they failed to cooperate with me when I requested documents," he said.

Anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne said the commission was deliberately chasing red herrings by first hearing the testimony of "minions" in the air force and navy in August, and Mbeki, Manuel and Erwin could have been called to give evidence earlier.

"Why isn't the former secretary of defence, General Pierre Steyn, being called to explain why he resigned in 1998 because he refused to take accounting responsibility for the offset scams?" Crawford-Browne asked.

The arms deal has been mired in controversy for years, with allegations that bribes were paid by foreign arms manufacturers in the form of commissions to ANC politicians and middlemen.

In 2006, senior ANC politician and former chairman of parliament's defence portfolio committee Tony Yengeni served a short prison sentence after he was found to have received a discount on his purchase of a Mercedes-Benz SUV.

In 2010, the Hawks unit closed its investigation into the arms deal.

But in October 2011 Zuma set up the commission, headed by Judge Willie Seriti, after Crawford-Browne challenged the government's decision to end the investigation in the Constitutional Court. - Additional reporting by Sapa