The findings of the Seriti Commission, established by former president Jacob Zuma, were set aside by the North Gauteng High Court.
The Commission was mandated to investigate possible corruption during the 1999 Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP) that saw the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) acquire new front-line equipment for the Air Force and Navy.
The judgement handed down by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo on Wednesday pointed out the Commission did not concern allegations of corruption against those implicated in the deal, but rather “whether the commission’s proceedings complied with the principles of legality”. The judgement sets aside now retired Judge Willie Seriti’s findings that there was no corruption involved in the acquisition of frigates, submarines, jet fighters, jet trainers and light and maritime helicopters. It also orders three Cabinet ministers – representing defence and military veterans, justice and correctional services and trade and industry – along with the President to pay the applicants’ costs.
The case was brought by non-government organisations Corruption Watch and Right to Know (R2K).
They said on receiving the judgement it “vindicated dogged efforts” and “affirms the efforts of more than 40 civil society organisations and whistle-blowers that ensured the attempted whitewashing of corruption in the arms deal did not succeed”.
Long-time anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne is reported as saying South Africa should cancel all still outstanding arms deal contracts, return all purchased goods – including fighter aircraft and recover stolen money from the arms deal.
Welcoming the setting aside the NGOs said it was important to note the findings of commissions of inquiry are subject to judicial review.
Those who claimed exoneration on the basis of the Seriti Commission findings are no longer able to do so, a joint statement said.
“What this process brought to light is in future, commissions of inquiry must conduct investigations in accordance with the principle of legality and rationality. Corruption Watch and Right2Know set out how the commission fell short of this standard by failing to gather easily accessible evidence, refusing to admit key documents into evidence, and failing to test the veracity of witness testimony or evidence.”
There was, at the time of publication, no indication as to whether the Commission would be re-instated. One commentator was of the opinion the issue should be handed to Advocate Shamila Batohi, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).