Simelane closes door on arms probe


Parliament’s efforts to uncover persistent allegations of corruption in the 1999 Strategic Defence Package appears to have been shunted into a siding, with national prosecutions chief Menzi Simelane saying there is no basis to charge anyone on the available evidence, the Independent newspapers have reported.

Responding to a demand from Parliament’s spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), on why the investigations had been shelved, Simelane said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had sent the files containing nearly 10 years of investigations work back to the police. “On conclusion, the NPA advised the Hawks that, on the information provided, a prosecution against any person was not possible at this stage as the cases required further investigation”, Simelane stated in a letter to Scopa.

Hawks chief Lieutenant General Anwar Dramat told MPs at a hearing on its arms deal probes in September that they should decide whether the state should continue pumping money into the remaining two investigations it was pursuing out of the original 50, as it was costing millions with little to show for it, the newspapers reported. “SCOPA was taken aback by the suggestion that MPs had the power to cancel a criminal investigation and suggested the Hawks continue with it. A month later Dramat confirmed that the case had been closed, prompting SCOPA to demand answers.”

SCOPA chairman, African Peoples’ Convention MP Themba Godi, told Independent Newspapers he had reminded the Hawks on Friday that “a detailed” explanation on why the probe had been abruptly closed was still outstanding. “If we stand up in this country saying we fight corruption, there should be nothing that undermines that, “Godi said of the British Accountancy and Actuarial Discipline Board’s investigation into KPMG, which acted as advisers to BAE Systems on payments made to off-shore companies during the transaction to provide Hawk and SAAB Gripen fighter aircraft to South Africa.

SCOPA’s review was launched in late 2008 – after stepped-up calls for an independent judicial inquiry – to ensure that departments had executed recommendations made by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in 2001, which exonerated the government from wrongdoing. It did, however, recommend further investigations by the erstwhile Scorpions into some conflicts-of-interest in the procurement processes.

Godi said no spectacular new evidence had been put before the committee, but it wanted to ensure the Hawks continued to follow up leads probed by the Scorpions, the papers reported. He said none of the beneficiaries had broken ranks. “By not having hard evidence, we are not saying nothing happened, but it is a challenge.”

Among the hurdles SCOPA had encountered was that hardly any of the original investigators were still around to tie up loose ends, while the state’s capacity to do big investigations had declined.
“It may well be that we look back and see this investigation as one of those that just fell through the cracks,” Godi said. “You want to make sure, like a good goalkeeper, that nothing passes you… but it is one of those things in life… I can’t see how we can continue without evidence.