Arms deal inquiry commences

1853

The inquiry into the 1999 Strategic Defence Package, aka ‘the arms deal’, commenced this week, with the commission starting work at its new premises on Monday.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told parliament’s justice portfolio committee that his department had secured temporary accommodation for the commission at Salvokop in Pretoria, according to the Sunday Times, while sources at the Department confirmed that work began on Monday.
“We have interim accommodation … while the Department of Public Works is continuing with [finding] appropriate accommodation.
“Administrative staff have been procured by the commission and the budget for this current financial year, an amount of about R16-million, will be expanded by the commission,” said Radebe.

President Jacob Zuma in October last year appointed Justice Willie Seriti of the Supreme Court of Appeal to probe the 1999 Strategic Defence Package (SDP).

The commission was set up to look into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity and will investigate six areas, including whether any person or persons within and/or outside the government may have improperly influenced the awarding or conclusion of any of the contracts in the arms deal procurement process.

The commission has two years to complete its work and will submit interim reports to Zuma every six months. It has been given powers to subpoena witnesses who could be fined or face up to a year in prison should they refuse to cooperate, the Sunday Times reports. In addition, the commission will have search and seizure powers, will conduct public hearings and will be able to compel witnesses to answer questions.

South Africa in 1998 announced that it was to acquire frigates, submarines, helicopters, jet trainers and fighters from a number of European suppliers to rejuvenate the prime mission equipment of the South African Navy and Air Force. Preferred bidders were announced at the Defence Exhibition SA in September that year. Negotiations followed with deals signed in December 1999. The contracts, worth some R30 billion at the time, became effective on April 1, 2000.

The deals, which the Treasury says now cost R47 billion, saw South Africa gain four sophisticated German-built Meko A200SAN frigates, three state-of-the-art Type 209 MOD1400 submarines (also German-built), 26 Saab Gripen fighter aircraft, 24 British-built BAE Systems Hawk Mk 120 fighter-trainers and 30 Italian-built AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters.

In June last year, Swedish defence multinational SAAB announced BAE Systems had paid Fana Hlongwane R24 million to help secure the Gripen contract. The Swedish company adds that news of the payment was hidden from it by its partner in the deal. The British defence giant last year reached an agreement with the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over allegations that it failed to provide accurate records in connection with the supply of an air-traffic control system to Tanzania. It admitted the charge and agreed to pay a penalty of £30 million, while the SFO waived its right to investigate other allegations, including those relating to South Africa. BAE Systems in June sold the last of its shares in Saab.

In August the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Ferrostaal, part of the German Submarine Consortium, had made R300 million in “questionable” payments to secure its SA contract. Themba Godi, the chairman of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) said the development was startling, given the fact that the Hawks had closed the German arm of the investigation, citing a lack of evidence. “These revelations do indicate that unless this matter is thoroughly investigated, we will continue to have information coming to the public that shows us that maybe our anti-corruption agencies have not been doing their work.”