Remove stench of corruption

18 September 2011 - 03:06 By Terry Crawford-Browne
The Constitutional Court. File photo.
The Constitutional Court. File photo.

The arms deal has been described by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) as "the litmus test of South Africa's commitment to democracy and good governance". We rightly take pride in our constitution. There is nothing more destructive of democracy than corruption.

The arms deal represents the betrayal of South Africa's struggle against apartheid, hence my commitment for the past 15 years to expose the corruption which the arms deal unleashed.

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane assigned me to represent the Anglican Church at the 1996-98 parliamentary defence review. The defence white paper acknowledged that there was no conceivable foreign military threat to our country and that eradication of poverty was the prime priority in the post-apartheid era.

The Anglican Church's stance, in common with other voices of civil society, was that every cent we could muster should be allocated to education, health, housing, job creation and crime prevention.

These are "human security" issues, expressed in section 198 of the constitution that "national security must reflect the resolve of South Africans, as individuals and as a nation, to live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want, and to seek a better life". These aspirations are also enshrined in the bill of rights.

Instead, the arms deal was predicated upon the economically absurd notion that expenditure of R30-billion would generate R110-billion in offsets to create over 65000 jobs. Offsets are internationally notorious as a scam promoted by the armaments industry with the connivance of corrupt politicians to fleece taxpayers.

As a former international banker, I could smell the stench of corruption. All pleadings to government ministers were contemptuously dismissed. They insisted that the arms deal would be the "cleanest arms deal ever", with fail-safe measures to make corruption impossible.

Offsets are also constitutionally incompatible with section 217, requiring government procurements to be conducted "in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective".

British, French, German and Swedish politicians flocked to South Africa after 1994 to pay tribute to President Nelson Mandela with one hand and to peddle weapons with the other.

In the post-Cold War era, BAE and other European arms manufacturers were facing bankruptcy. They targeted South Africa to destabilise our still fragile democracy.

As early as 1998, there were allegations in the corridors of parliament that a senior ANC leader was the recipient of a £1-million bribe by BAE. More allegations followed that BAE was also laundering bribes of R30-million to R35-million via two Swedish trade unions for other ANC politicians.

Through Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in London, I asked the British government to investigate. Scotland Yard was appointed to the task. I learnt in due course that it was [then] not illegal in English law to bribe foreigners, and therefore there was no crime to investigate.

A British minister finally admitted in 2003 that BAE had paid "commissions" to secure its warplane contracts with South Africa, but, she pleaded, they were "within reasonable limits".

Affidavits of 160 pages that I have submitted to the Constitutional Court detail how and why BAE laundered payments of £115-million (R1.5-billion) through front companies, to whom and into which bank accounts the bribes were paid. BAE's history is organised crime on a scale that makes the Italian Mafia look like saints.

ANC intelligence operatives contacted me in June 1999. They had been highly trained in the Soviet Union and had experienced the criminal lawlessness in Russia when communist bureaucrats suddenly became super-capitalists. They had not gone into exile and fought against apartheid, they said, just to see South Africa degenerate into a gangster society.

They informed me that the leadership of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) and the late defence minister Joe Modise viewed the arms deal as a vehicle for massive personal enrichment.

In addition to the arms deal, they told me, the common denominator to oil deals, gun running, toll roads, drug and diamond trafficking, and money laundering would be 10% kickbacks to rogue politicians.

Alarmed, I informed Archbishop Ndungane, who first called for a judicial commission of inquiry. I then introduced the operatives to Patricia de Lille. The "De Lille dossier" and evidence of corruption soon followed in September 1999.

After unsuccessful government efforts to bury the arms-deal scandal, President Jacob Zuma has at last agreed to appoint a commission of inquiry. This follows the application I made in the public interest to the Constitutional Court in October 2010 after the Hawks admitted in parliament that they possessed 460 boxes and 4.7 million computer pages of evidence against BAE.

We went to the Constitutional Court on May 5 2011. The president's legal counsel tried to bludgeon the justices with arguments on legal technicalities and presidential prerogatives, and thus avoid the substance of the case. When those arguments ran dry, they were given two postponements to deal with the substance.

The second deadline was September 15. Given the massive volume of documentation, the president's advisers evidently found it impossible to refute my submissions or the evidence.

Although the saga has been very stressful for my wife, Lavinia, and me - especially when Trevor Manuel tried to drive us into sequestration and penury - we remain confident of ultimate vindication.

On May 10 2011, I proposed a judicial commission of inquiry modelled on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and composed of five retired judges. I believe this proposal offers both the president and the country an honourable way out of the constitutional crisis caused by the arms deal scandal.

I proposed that the commissioners be empowered to grant immunity from prosecution against full disclosure. They should also be empowered to take appropriate remedial action, such as cancellation of the contracts and recovery of the estimated R70-billion squandered on the deal.

My legal team awaits the terms of reference for the commission before considering whether to withdraw my application before the Constitutional Court.

I hope and pray that President Zuma and his advisers will not attempt a repeat of the stunt that Mbeki tried in 2001 with the Joint Investigating Team's "whitewash" report that purported to exonerate the government of any wrongdoing.

  • Crawford-Browne is a former international banker and has been a peace activist since the mid-'80s