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Mbeki off the hook

Published Jun 19, 2008

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By Karyn Maughan and Jeremy Gordin

President Thabo Mbeki is no longer under suspicion for any alleged corruption involving South Africa's controversial arms deal with Germany.

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The Dusseldorf public prosecutor's office this week permanently ended its investigations into the multibillion-rand sale of four corvettes to the South African Navy.

Mbeki and other senior ANC members were alleged to have received massive bribes for the deal.

The decision to close the case comes after SA failed to provide German authorities with any of the information they had requested to finalise their case.

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"We needed to find where the money might have gone...and we were unable to do so," Arno Neukirchen of the Dusseldorf public prosecutor's office told The Star on Wednesday.

"This investigation has been going on for a long time and we did not believe we had a good chance of securing convictions."

Neukirchen has led the prosecuting team investigating whether former employees of massive steel and arms manufacturing group ThyssenKrupp, among others, were guilty of "criminally relevant behaviour" in connection with the corvette sales in the late 1990s and an intended sale to Angola's navy.

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When the probe was announced in Der Spiegel magazine in 2006, connections were immediately made with Mbeki, who was alleged to have helped "turn" the tender in ThyssenKrupp's favour in 1999.

In February last year the magazine further reported that German prosecutors had internal memos from ThyssenKrupp detailing meetings at which Chippy Shaik allegedly demanded payment of $3-million to ensure the success of the German bid.

Shaik, a brother of fraudster Schabir - former financial adviser to Jacob Zuma - was the government's head of arms purchases when the contract for the arms package was concluded.

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Now it seems that none of the allegations against him or Mbeki can be backed up with evidence.

Although confirming that his office had found evidence of crimes on the part of some former ThyssenKrupp employees against the company itself, Neukirchen on Wednesday said those had nothing to do with the corvettes.

Earlier, the German prosecutor reportedly described the information they had sought from South African authorities as essential to their investigation.

But on Wednesday he said: "We were not surprised (when the SA Justice Department did not provide the information sought...the nature of the information was complex and probably difficult to gather."

Presidential spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga's only comment was to point out that Mbeki had called on anyone with evidence against him to come forward.

ThyssenKrupp said "criminally relevant behaviour, in particular acts of bribery, were not established by the public prosecutor's office".

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