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Another application to set aside the Seriti Commission’s findings submitted to court

Another Seriti rerview court application launchedTwo non-government organisations – Corruption Watch and the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign – have applied to the North Gauteng High Court to set aside the findings of the Arms Procurement Commission.

The application asks the court to review and set aside the findings of the Commission, headed by Judge Willie Seriti, which found there was no bribery or corruption involved in newly democratic South Africa’s acquisition of defence equipment in the late nineties.

The application comes just on three months after Terry Crawford-Browne, probably the most vocal critic of the arms deal and the man whose perseverance in opposing it led to the Seriti Commission being established, approached the Constitutional Court. He, like the two NGOs, wants the Seriti Commission’s report set aside.

In 2010 Crawford-Browne went to the Constitutional Court over the arms deal. This resulted in President Jacob Zuma setting up the Arms Procurement Commission to investigate allegations of corruption and impropriety. When Zuma released the results of the report earlier this year, he said it had found no evidence of wrongdoing in the deal. The Commission’s report was subsequently labelled a whitewash by critics.

In support of the latest application Corruption Watch and R2K said in a statement they want to North Gauteng High Court to set aside Judge Seriti’s findings “following a relentless struggle by civil society for accountability in a scandal that was one of the most far-reaching in a democratic South Africa”.

“The Seriti Commission’s findings cannot be allowed to stand. This review seeks to ensure a great crime against the people of South Africa will not be whitewashed.

“Challenging the arms deal cover-up is particularly relevant given the struggles today against state capture, in an environment in which investigations of irregular procurement and large-scale contracts are increasingly hampered and suppressed. Those who are implicated continue to act with impunity and in most cases remain in their positions without consequences.

“The Commission,” the joint statement said, “was tasked with investigating allegations of corruption in the 1999 arms deal, which cost the country billions of rand in exchange for weapons through processes that lacked transparency. However, after over four years, characterised by a flawed process, the Commission’s final report claimed it had found no evidence of any corruption in the deal.

”The founding papers show this finding is the result of an abject failure on the part of the Commission to undertake a proper investigation. The Commission refused to consider thousands of pages of evidence from previous investigations and failed to gather or admit highly incriminating evidence despite having the power to do so.

“Taken together, this behaviour shows the Commission grossly failed in its mandate to fully investigate and uncover the truth about the arms deal. This deal has deeply corrupted the politics of South Africa and sits at the heart of the country’s fight against corruption and state capture.

“The Commission’s failure to provide the public with the truth undermines the country’s attempts to fight these struggles.”

Corruption Watch and R2K maintain they have approached the courts “because for far too long the corrupt have escaped accountability”.

When he approached the Constitutional Court in July, Crawford-Browne said he had filed the application case in the public interest “requesting the court to set aside the Commission’s report and to instruct the Minister of Finance to recover monies — now estimated at over R70-billion — irrationally and fraudulently spent on the arms deal”.

He also specified the thousands of pages of evidence Corruption Watch and R2K said Judge Seriti “failed to gather or admit into evidence”. According to Crawford-Brown this evidence was “deliberately blocked” by Judge Seriti.

By the time it had completed its tasks and presented a report to President Jacob Zuma, the Seriti commission had cost South African taxpayers R137 million for the just over four years of its existence.

The airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force was the largest beneficiary of the arms deal adding 26 Gripen fighters, 24 Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainers, 30 Agusta light utility helicopters and four Super Lynx maritime helicopters to its inventory. The SA Navy re-acquired its blue water capability when four Valour Class frigates and three Type 209 Heroine Class submarines were delivered in terms of the multi-billion rand acquisition deal, originally estimated at about R30 billion, but believed to have eventually cost more than R70 billion.

 
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