No Seriti cross-examination for Hlongwane

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Fana Hlongwane, the man said to be at the centre of the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal, escaped cross-examination when he appeared at the Seriti Commission on Thursday.

Last month, lawyers for the arms consultant indicated he was willing to assist the Commission sitting in Pretoria and “wants to come and give evidence”.

After being led through his statement by an evidence leader, lawyers participating in the commission said they had no questions to ask the former defence adviser the SA Press Association reported.

Hlongwane’s appearance at the Commission had been anticipated amid allegations he had received around R65 million in arms deal bribes when he acted as an adviser to the then defence minister, Joe Modise.

Hlongwane dismissed having any knowledge of underhand dealings during the procurement of new front line equipment for the SA Air Force and SA Navy.
“I can further categorically state I did not pay any gratification to anybody who was involved in the procurement process in order to influence such person relating to the award or conclusion of any of the contracts awarded and concluded in the SDPP (Strategic Defence Procurement Package),” Hlongwane said.

He had not participated in any decision-making process related to the procurement and could therefore not assist the Commission in that regard.
“I can also state I have no knowledge of the fact that any person who had been involved in the acquisition process had received any gratification relating to the award and/or conclusion of the contracts,” he said.

He told the Commission none of the people who had testified about corrupt dealings to it had brought evidence to back their claims.

Hlongwane had been scheduled to give evidence over two days but he spent about four hours before the panel.

He said the money he was paid was commission for services rendered.

Hlongwane lashed out at critics who claimed the funds he had received were unjustified.

He told the commission that when white businessmen signed deals and made good profits, it was celebrated as business acumen, but if a black businessman did the same, he was suspected of corruption.
“You cannot criminalise a businessman simply because of quantum.
“I do not support an inferiority mindset,” Hlongwane said.
“That’s why I was reluctant to come here,” he told Commission chairman Judge Willie Seriti.

Thursday’s proceedings got off to a late start as Hlongwane’s lawyers tried to stop the media from taking pictures of their client during the proceedings.

Jaap Cilliers, SC, for Hlongwane, said publishing pictures of Hlongwane would infringe on his client’s safety, privacy and the security of his family, and negatively affect his business.

Having cameras focused on him could also affect the way in which he delivered his testimony.
“Up until now, there has never been any publication of him in the press and he’s able to move around freely,” said Cilliers, highlighting the fact that his client was a “very private” person.
“If published, everyone in South Africa will recognise him and this will affect his family,” he said, adding that previously threats had been made against his client.

After the media put up a fight, calling their lawyers for advice, Hlongwane abandoned his bid and walked into court with cameras flashing away.
“I apologise for the drama here before my arrivals. It’s not that I’m not photogenic, but I’m a private person,” Hlongwane told the Commission.

Hlongwane was the last person to testify before the Commission breaks until next year.

The Commission is holding public hearings into alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms procurement deal.

At the time, the government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.

The Commission was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago.



Zuma recently extended the term of the Commission until April 30, 2015 after which it will be expected to issue a report within a six-month deadline.