Hawks to “assess” SAAB statement


The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), popularly known as the “Hawks”, is to assess a statement made by SAAB CE Håkan Buskhe last week that its then-partner BAE Systems paid defence consultant Fana Hlongwane R24 million a decade ago to help secure contracts that formed part of the still-controversial Strategic Defence Package signed in 2000. The Swedish company adds that news of the payment was hidden from it.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party yesterday said it had “immediately” written to DPCI head Lieutenant General Anwar Dramat requesting that the information be investigated. The party’s defence shadow, David Maynier, said he had received the following reply yesterday: “I am aware of the recent disclosures made by SAAB’s Executive Officer, Mr Hakan Bushke [sic]. This information will be assessed by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.”

Maynier said the DA “welcomes the undertaking”.

The local Mail & Guardian newspaper Friday reported Hlongwane, an adviser to Defence Minister Joe Modise at the time the deals were negotiated, has received so-called “commission” payments of more than R200 million from entities controlled by BAE.

Dow Jones Newswires reported from Stockholm on Thursday that Buskhe had told it in an interview that a person employed by BAE Systems had, without the company’s knowledge, signed a contract, processed transactions and approved the audited and inaccurate financial statement for 2003. “We can only assume that the BAE employee wanted to hide this,” he added. “We have informed BAE Systems of our findings and how we regard this matter,” he added.

SAAB launched an internal investigation into the matter last month. “We have zero tolerance regarding bribes, corruption and unethical conduct when it comes to doing business. … We have no desire to cover up anything,” Buskhe said when announcing the probe.

BAE Systems last week told Dow Jones this “and other matters were fully reviewed by the [UK] Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and formed part of the overall resolution that the company reached with the SFO in February 2010. Any questions relating to SAAB and its subsidiaries should be directed to SAAB.”

Dow Jones reminded that the British defence giant last year reached an agreement with the 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.

Buskhe added SAAB has now handed over “all investigation material” to the country’s national anti-corruption unit that will now look at whether there “are grounds to initiate an investigation of bribery, at the individual or corporate level, in connection with the sale of the … Gripen in South Africa.”

The Hawks last September halted a decade-long probe into allegations around the SDP, saying they are unlikely to secure further convictions. The investigation “wasn’t really getting anywhere,” Dramat’ spokesman Musa Zondi told the Bloomberg financial news service in October. “It’s closed. The National Prosecuting Authority, on the basis of the evidence we had, couldn’t charge anyone.”

Dramat had the day before told the Sowetan: “I instructed that it must be closed.” He refused to give reasons. “No, sorry. You can make a written enquiry,” he said. Bloomberg reports the South African government has faced accusations since 1999 that officials took bribes from companies that won weapons contracts worth R47.4 billion. “Among those implicated were President Jacob Zuma. Charges against him were dropped in April last year,” Bloomberg said. The M&G reports bribes, disguised as commissions and miscellaneous expenses may have amounted to more than R1 billion.