Seriti Commission final report reaps far more criticism than praise

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While, as to be expected, the ruling ANC has welcomed the Seriti Commission’s report that found no wrongdoing in the 1998 Arms Deal, it has also been widely criticised and there is even talk of the Arms Deal and its various sub-components landing up in the Constitutional Court.

ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa said in a statement that the ruling party “reaffirms its confidence in the credibility of the process and trusts the Commission’s report will bring to finality the allegations and claims of wrongdoing in the Arms Deal”.

This line was echoed by Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency during a post Cabinet meeting briefing in Cape Town.

He said the Seriti Commission and the findings it made were neither a whitewash nor a waste of taxpayers’ money adding the findings, that no further investigations be undertaken by law enforcement agencies, vindicated government.

The Seriti Commission had cost the South African taxpayer more than R113 million during its lifespan. The Commission was initially given two years and a R40 million budget to do its work but this was extended and additional funding was also provided.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said: “It has always been the Ministry’s contention that of all what has been said, we have been vindicated and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) needed to acquire the capabilities for the effective defence of our country and its territorial integrity”.

Patricia de Lille, the original whistleblower on allegations of bribery and corruption in the multi-billion Rand arms deal when she was an MP representing the Independent Democrats, said the Seriti Commission is a farce and taxpayers’ money was wasted to shield President Jacob Zuma from corruption allegations.

David Maynier the previous Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence minister who was called as a Seriti Commission witness, said the report was “a massive disappointment because those who were implicated in Arms Deal corruption have effectively been let off the hook”.

Another who was critical of the Commission’s report was Dennis Bloem of COPE.
“COPE is dismayed that the Commission uncovered nothing of any importance over four years of sitting,” he said adding it was hard to understand why the Commission’s life was extended from two to four years when “not even an iota of wrongdoing was uncovered”.

Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) rejected the outcome of the Commission, also calling it a whitewash and advising Zuma to “take the report and throw it in his firepool”.

Freedom Front Plus (FF+) defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald said findings that nothing irregular took place, that all requirements were met and the equipment acquired was being properly utilised was “just not true”. As an example he said there were currently about 20 Gripens in storage.
“If there were no irregularities one has to ask why Schabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni, a previous chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, were found guilty and sent to jail for irregularities related to the Arms Deal.
“The Seriti Commission once again showed the Arms Deal is just another corruption scandal,” he said.

The Right to Know campaign (R2K) said in its response to the Commission’s report “it has long been clear the Commission was unwilling to fully pursue the truth but we are shocked by the extent of the cover-up. This despite a mountain of evidence which could have helped the Commission prove wrongdoing – and findings in other courts against people who benefitted from the arms deal including President Zuma’s financial advisor Shabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni. The deal involves a powerful network of people that stretches all the way to the Union Buildings.”

Terry Crawford-Browne, long-time activist against the acquisition of new front line equipment for the SANDF and the man who went all the way to the Constitutional Court to force Zuma to set up the Seriti Commission, said he was discussing with his lawyers whether to go back to the highest court in the country.

Another option was to take the issue overseas. “If I have exhausted local remedies, I am also discussing with oversea lawyers whether to bring the matter in the United States in terms of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other American legislation.”

Crawford-Browne in particular criticised the lack of access to and investigation of 4.7 million computer pages and 460 boxes of evidence against BAE that is in the Hawks possession after they inherited it from the Scorpions.
“The evidence also includes 160 pages of affidavits from the British Serious Fraud Office and Scorpions that detail how and why BAE paid bribes of £115 million via its front company, Red Diamond Trading Company incorporated in the BVI – who whom the bribes were paid, and which bank accounts in SA and overseas were credited,” Crawford-Browne said. “The major beneficiaries were Fana Hlongwane, John Bredenkamp and the late Richard Charter.”
“Judge Seriti refused to admit as evidence the Debevoise & Plimpton report on Ferrostaal and the submarines. That report finds that the Ferrostaal offsets (also just over 2 percent) were mainly ‘non-refundable loans’ i.e. bribes,” according to Crawford-Browne.

Paul Holden, Andrew Feinstein and Hennie van Vuuren, who wrote a book about the Arms Deal and were subpoenaed to appear before the commission, but decided not to, called the Seriti Commission’s final report “an outrage”.
“The Commission was a unique opportunity to fully investigate the Arms Deal, to tell the truth to the South African public and see justice done. The result of the Commission’s work is exactly the opposite: more prevarication, less truth, no justice”.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said the Seriti Commission’s findings resulted in “another white-washed report whose objective is nothing less than clearing comrades from Luthuli House,” and pointed out that the Durban High Court was shown evidence alleging arms deal bribes to the then Deputy President of the country from the French arms giant, Thales. “This piece of evidence was successfully admitted, used in court and led to the conviction of Mr Schabir Shaik. In the judgment that followed, Mr Zuma was implicated. It is very disturbing that the report is conspicuously quiet on this,” said Holomisa.

The commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, was established by President Zuma in September 2011, to investigate allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the arms procurement process.

The 1999 purchases included Gripen fighter aircraft and Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, as well as frigates and submarines for the navy.



The matter may not be over yet as the Democratic Alliance is attempting to review a 2008 decision to drop charges of corruption related to the arms deal against President Jacob Zuma. A decision by the High Court in Pretoria is expected soon.