First public arms deal hearings in March


With over three million pages of documentation already in its possession, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages will start its first round of public hearings in March.

Thirteen weeks have been set aside to hear evidence from 12 witnesses, including former MP Patricia de Lille, now Cape Town mayor, who is widely accepted as being the original whistle blower on corruption and fraud related to the multi-billion Rand defence equipment acquisition that started in 1998.

Also on the list of witnesses for the March 4 to May 31 Pretoria hearings are long-time anti-arms deal campaigner and retired banker Terry Crawford-Browne, former chairman of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) Andrew Feinstein and Democratic Alliance shadow defence and military veterans minister David Maynier. Another whose testimony is expected to attract interest is Fana Hlongwane, a facilitator for then Defence Minister Joe Modise, and Richard Young, managing director of C2I2.

Paul Hoffman, Gavin Woods, Paul Holden, Raenette Taljaard, Major General Hans Meiring and Colonel Johan du Plooy make up the dozen witnesses called before Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Willie Seriti and his co-commissioners for the first round of public hearings.

The commission was appointed by President Zuma in October two years ago to investigate and report on allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity surrounding South Africa’s purchase of military equipment including third generation Gripen fighters and stealth frigates built in Germany.

Other military equipment now in service with the South African National Defence force and acquired as part of what is generally termed “the arms deal” are Type 209 diesel-electric submarines, Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter trainers and AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters.

The public hearings are seen as the third phase of the Commission’s work, with the first being its set-up and infrastructure creation. The second was requesting information from government institutions and departments. This phase also entailed visits to foreign countries where information was gathered and interviews held.

Commission spokesman William Baloyi said the public hearings would be conducted in phases, with the first dealing with allegations of irregularity and wrongdoing that have been made public.
“The allegations will be interrogated to determine whether they can be substantiated by fact and to address the veracity of evidence obtained as a result.
“At the end of the first phase of public hearings the Commission will adjourn to analyse and assess the evidence and make provisional factual findings to be incorporated in the next interim report. The second phase of the public hearings will commence after this at a date still to be finalised. In this phase, the commission will deal with information gathered through own investigations. In this phase we expect to call as witnesses some key role players in the acquisition process as well as other people who are implicated by the information available, either as alleged beneficiaries or suspects in the general allegations of bribery, fraud and other illegal activities,” Baloyi said.

Speaking from Cape Town, Crawford-Browne said while he had been told his presence was required in Pretoria in March this has yet to be confirmed by registered mail.
“I have not yet been given exact dates nor have I received formal notification from the Seriti Commission.”

His supplementary submissions, couriered to the Commission on December 12, were returned to him because “nobody at the Commission bothered to respond to delivery advice notices. It has cost me another R175 to re-courier documents they were too lazy to collect”.