Pretoria - Judge Willie Seriti, chairman of the Arms Procurement Commission, has broken his silence on claims made in a resignation letter by one of its investigators, denying that it was operating under a secret agenda incompatible with its mandate to uncover the truth.
He on Tuesday accused Pretoria lawyer Norman Moabi of making “false allegations to deliberately tarnish the image and credibility of the commission, probably because of a personal grudge he harbours against me based on reasons he has not disclosed”. Moabi said last night he preferred not to comment until he had properly the judge’s statement.
Judge Seriti rejected the notion of a secret agenda and the manipulation of evidence and briefs - among the claims by Moabi that have put a question mark over the credibility of the commission, and judge’s in particular.
Judge Seriti’s response was accompanied by a memorandum with the names of all 10 independent private legal practitioners - five of them senior counsel - who have accepted briefs to lead evidence when the commission’s hearings get under way on March 4. They said they had “at no time… gained the impression that matters are being hidden from us” and no areas were “off-limits”.
“None of us have had any ‘instructions’ in any form,” the memorandum states. “We as evidence leaders have never at any time been cajoled to have a particular outcome as far as the objectives of the commission is concerned.”
Nor had they been “dictated to or deprived of our views to reach a particular envisaged outcome”.
The evidence leaders said they were all independent legal practitioners in private practice and were not in the employ of the arms commission. “Our independence and views have been respected by the chairperson and co-commissioners throughout the consultations and meetings.”
Judge Seriti said he was primarily the target of Moabi’s criticism, but “the whole commission is tarnished”.
Moabi claimed in his letter dated January 7 - later leaked to the media - that in his “perception”, a hidden agenda was at play, based on the manipulation and ring-fencing of information before the commission, including “clandestine preparations” of documents and briefs and “unknown person(s)” dictating what information should go into them, and the designation of witnesses to evidence leaders.
Moabi accused Judge Seriti of a “total obsession with the control of the flow of information to and from the commission”. He also alleged nepotism, saying the commission’s administration was “managed by extended family relationships”.
Judge Seriti did not respond to this claim. He defended his control over information as consistent with the regulations governing the commission, but said the mass of documents were “accessible to all legal professional staff”.
“The allegation that the input of people who do not subscribe to the non-existent secret agenda is excluded and that such people are deliberately distracted with irrelevant material is without basis and patently false.”
Judge Seriti said he did not recall making the comments quoted by Moabi as supporting evidence of a hidden agenda. These had an implied threat that witnesses, once “dealt with” would no longer “make noises” in the media and referred to submissions by arms deal inquiry campaigner Terry Crawford Brown as being based on “hearsay”.
However, minutes of a strategy meeting on November 6 referred to hearsay evidence. Crawford Brown had “inundated” the commission with e-mails questioning how it was conducting its business and he had written articles in “similar vein”, Judge Seriti said. “I may have expressed the sentiment that he may stop the negative comments” once he had given his evidence. However, even if he had uttered such words “this in itself wouldn’t show a second agenda”.
Crawford Brown withdrew court action to compel the government to set up an inquiry into the corruption that infected the multibillion rand arms deal after President Jacob Zuma - implicated as a beneficiary - announced the commission in October.
Judge Seriti suggested Moabi was motivated by professional jealousy in referring to the “clandestine” preparation of briefs and “the unknown person” dictating information.
He sus-pected Moabi of resenting the role of advocate Fanyane Mdumbe, the commission’s head of legal research, as he thought he should’ve had the job.