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Seriti Commission’s findings on Arms Deal set aside: This is what it all means

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The North Gauteng High Court has set aside the Seriti Commission of Inquiry’s findings on the Arms Deal saga, a landmark ruling that will surely shake a few feathers.

Do you remember the Arms Deal saga?

Known formally as the Strategic Defence Package, the Arms Deal became the subject of controversy when it was alleged that key figures in the ANC-led government had benefitted personally from the multi-billion-rand procurement project.

The government, led by former president Nelson Mandela, in 1999, revealed that it had intended to enter into deals with Sweden and other countries for the procurement of upgraded military weapons.

Sweden was to supply South Africa with 39 Gripen fighter jets in exchange for about R10.8-billion (currency valuation at the time). However, it would be later discovered that the deal was marred by allegations of bribery.

Who was implicated in the Arms Deal?

International watchdogs and investigators uncovered a trail of bribes that linked the Swedish government to key figures in the ANC-led government, including:

  • former president Jacob Zuma;
  • former president Thabo Mbeki;
  • Schabir Shaik (Zuma’s former advisor);
  • Chippy Shaik (Schabir’s brother);
  • Fana Hlongwane;
  • Tony Yengeni; and others

Yengeni was convicted of defrauding Parliament after evidence showed that he had personally benefitted from securing bribes for the Arms Deal.

Minister of the Public Works and Infrastructure Department, Patricia de Lille, was also instrumental in exposing a string of shoddy payments, made by warship supplier, Thyssen-Krupp, to the ANC, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, as well as the Community Development Foundation.

What were the Seriti Commission’s findings?

Zuma was pressured to form the Seriti Commission after eyebrows were raised over the dubious nature of the Arms Deal that saw a balooned estimated total of R70-billion paid to certain foreign warship companies for the procurementof:

  • 26 Gripen fighter jets;
  • 24 Hawk MKs;
  • 120 jet trainers;
  • 30 Agusta A109 helicopters
  • four Meko frigates;
  • three Type 209 submarines; and
  • four Super Lynx maritime helicopters.

The commission heard testimony from 54 witnesses between 2012 and 2015, including Mbeki who was identified as the chair of the Cabinet committee that approved the procurement programme.

In a judicial process that cost the taxpayer about R140-million, civic groups and watchdogs were stunned when the commission found no untoward indications of corruption in the Arms Deal.

So, where to from here?

Corruption Watch and Right2Know’s challenge of the findings saw its final day in court, on Wednesday. After three years of turning in evidence of Judge Willie Seriti’s misfiring in his findings, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the commission’s conclusion was muddy, to say the least.

The court agreed with the challenging civic groups that:

  • the investigation claims made by German and Swiss authorities about Chippy’s (who was the former arms acquisition head) $3-million bribe to secure foreign companies a stake in the R60-billion arms deal were blatantly ignored; and
  • none of the leads suggesting that Shaik, Yengeni, and Vice-Admiral Simpson Anderson — among others — majorly benefitted from the deal, were looked at.

While it is still too early to tell, it is likely that the matter will be brought back to the books with a new commission set up by Parliament.

It is likely that a new judge will be appointed to oversee matters, with a parliamentary committee set to discuss and finalise the scope of the investigation.

At this stage, it is not clear how things will pan out but we can expect a prequel to the State Capture Inquiry.

(Source: The South African)

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