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New evidence allegedly shows Seriti Commission failures

Seriti CommissionCorruption Watch (CW) and the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign this week submitted what they term “damning new evidence” to the High Court that the Arms Deal Commission failed to do its job.

This is an important step in the civil society groups’ ongoing challenge against the findings of Judge Willie Seriti’s commission. They say new evidence shows the commission not only failed in its investigation – but misled the public as well.

The two organisations filed applications almost two years ago, but the process has been hampered by numerous delays from the state attorney in filing the documents that led the Seriti Commission to conclude there was no evidence of corruption in the arms deal. The record relates to letters, memoranda, reports, minutes and other material before the Seriti Commission, on which its findings were based and which has never previously been released to the public.

CW and R2K filed its supplementary affidavit based on parts of the record of decision eventually provided to the applicants, although these were still incomplete.

The documents in question allege: firstly, that the commission lied to the public and hid evidence of corruption; secondly, by failing to access information abroad the commission made no attempt to investigate serious allegations of corruption put before it; and thirdly, the commission failed to investigate new allegations that have come to light.

“Never has it been more important to expose the flawed and inadequate processes followed by the Seriti Commission and the way key information was ignored, so as to arrive at the conclusion there was no evidence of corruption in the arms deal,” said Leanne Govindsamy, Corruption Watch head of legal and investigations.

Evidence of corruption was either ignored or not considered by the commission.

This includes:

Evidence that Thabo Mbeki, Seth Phalatse, Richard Charter and Niall Irving had an “intimate dinner’’ in 1998, during the arms deal selection process. Mbeki was head of the Cabinet sub-committee tasked with the selection process, Phalatse was at Armscor and the others were agents and employees of BAE Systems. The commission did not investigate these allegations, nor was Mbeki questioned about this during his appearance and no mention of the allegation was made in the commission’s report.

Information on how the commission was advised Seth Phalatse paid bribes to Sipho Zikode, an official at the Department of Trade and Industry, in order to secure ‘offset credits’ for a BAE Systems project. The commission did not investigate this, Phalatse was never called to give evidence and it was not mentioned in the commission’s final report.

It is of particular concern that in addition to not investigating these matters, the commission also lied and misled the public about other key aspects of the arms deal the two civil society organisations said in a statement.

“These documents, released at long last by the state, are a vindication of civil society efforts to get transparency and accountability from the Seriti Commission when it was still sitting- which was refused. This case must help ensure going forward commissions of inquiry honour their mandate with independence and fairness”, said R2K’s National Working Group (NWG) member, Alfred Tshabalala.

At the hearings of the People’s Tribunal on Economic Crime in South Africa, in February, CW, R2K and civil society partner Open Secrets gave evidence of alleged corruption in the 1999 arms deal and subsequent repeated attempts to cover this up. Other evidence presented to the tribunal covered apartheid era sanctions busting and state capture related to Denel, which joined the dots between economic crimes of the past and present.

In its final report read out by retired Constitutional Court Justice Zac Yacoob on September 20, the tribunal noted the need to “tread carefully” regarding the arms deal findings and recommendations, in light of current review proceedings. The report also stated: “the judicial review proceedings in respect of the Seriti Commission report do not preclude and cannot bar an investigation into the Arms Deal and the prosecution of those implicated by any evidence we might have heard.”

Further recommendations include asking the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and SA Police Service to investigate transactions conducted during the arms deal. 

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