The outcome of the Seriti Commission appointed by former President Jacob Zuma in 2011 to investigate possible fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the strategic defence procurement package (SDPP) for two national defence force services could see criminal misconduct charges brought against judges Willie Seriti and Hendrik Musi.
The final report of the Commission, like that of another commission Zuma instigated (the Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo-led one into allegations of State Capture), was delayed after extensions were sought and further funds allocated. It was widely criticised when reporting no evidence of fraud, corruption or other criminal wrongdoing in the acquisition of fighter jets, jet fighter trainers, light utility helicopters, frigates and submarines to upgrade combat capabilities of the SA Air Force (SAAF) and SA Navy (SAN).
The possibility of misconduct charges stems from investigations done by non-profit organisations (NPOs) Shadow World Investigations and Open Secrets. This resulted in a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
A joint statement from the NPOs has it their “detailed complaint focused on the High Court’s damning judgment which found Judge Willie Seriti and Judge Hendrick Musi failed to investigate the Arms Deal during the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of Fraud, Corruption and Wrongdoing in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (known as the ‘Seriti Commission’). The complaint asks the JCC to consider whether certain actions by the judges may constitute criminal misconduct and, if so, to refer these matters to the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) for further action”.
“The NPOs lodged the complaint to bolster public trust in the integrity of the Judiciary and send a strong signal that the kind of conduct that enabled a cover-up of serious crimes by the Seriti Commission should not be tolerated. The R142 billion Arms Deal (calculated at current monetary value) saw enormous social damage in South Africa – resulting in the loss of up to a million jobs – and enriched a small group of powerful European corporations, politicians and middlemen.”
Zondo, wearing his hat as acting chair of the JCC, affirmed the “seriousness” of the NPOs’ complaint.
His letter to Shadow World Investigations/Open Secrets reads, in part: “I am satisfied that, in the event of Shadow World Investigations and Open Secret’s complaint being established, it is likely to lead to a finding by the JSC that Judge Seriti and Judge Musi are guilty of gross misconduct as envisaged in the JSC Act”.
Indications are the JCC will meet on 12 June and recommend to the JSC whether the matter should be investigated and reported on by a tribunal.
Calling the decision a major step, the NPOs said it is “the start of a process toward accountability”.
“Both organisations welcome an opportunity to make representations to the committee. This first step towards accountability is further vindication of civil society’s efforts to expose cover-ups at the Seriti Commission – and the decision by civil society activists to withdraw from the Commission as witnesses,” according to the statement.