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Arms deal middleman quizzes inquiry

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A middleman in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms procurement deal on Thursday told the Seriti Commission of Inquiry he failed to understand why he had been called to testify.

“Why am I here?” Fana Hlongwana asked the commission.

He said he did not understand why there was an issue over the funds, assumed to be millions, he was paid when he acted as a consultant for then defence minister Joe Modise.

It is up to two entities to decide on payment, Hlongwane told the commission.

“You cannot criminalise a businessman simply because of quantum,” he said.

He lashed out at critics who had claimed he was involved in corrupt activities which resulted in the massive payouts.

Hlongwane said they did this because they failed to understand that times had changed and a black man from Soweto could also be progressive.

“I do not support an inferiority mindset,” Hlongwane said.

“To make a confession chair,” he said referring to commission chairman Willie Seriti.

“That’s why I was reluctant to come here.”

He claimed that when funds were pocketed by white people, these were regarded to be bonuses which were above board.

Throughout his testimony, Hlongwane said none of the key witnesses who had testified before the commission had provided any evidence supporting claims that there was corruption in the deal.

He said former president Thabo Mbeki and various Cabinet ministers who had testified had provided clear and unequivocal evidence.

“They rejected any suggestion of improper influence relating to the award or conclusion of any of the SDPP [strategic defence procurement package] contracts,” said Hlongwane, reading through his official statement.

“Apart from the fact that their evidence was clear on this issue, their evidence was never disputed,” he said.

He denied allegations that he or his company had had any influence on the arms deal.

“I can further categorically state that 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,” Hlongwane said.

The commission, sitting in Pretoria, is probing allegations of corruption in the arms 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.

Hlongwane, who was the last witness to testify, had been scheduled to deliver his testimony and cross-examination over the next two days.

He concluded his testimony on Thursday without any questions being posed from the panel and legal representatives. SAPA


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