The battle to force former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma to account for their alleged involvement in the Arms Deal saga will play itself out in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday.
The court application by Corruption Watch and Right2know came more than three years after Judge Willie Seriti, who headed the arms procurement commission inquiry, exonerated the politicians in any acts of wrongdoing. His finding irked civil society organisations.
This led to the two organisations filing papers in the High Court and now the matter has been set down for hearing Tuesdat and Wednesday.
Corruption Watch spokesperson Phemelo Khaas confirmed that the matter is for hearing, after years of “dogged scrutiny” of the flawed processes and ongoing efforts to hold those implicated in the alleged corruption in the arms deal accountable.
“The fact that this application will at last receive a public hearing in court is a result of civil society’s determined pursuit of the matter.
“The Corruption Watch and R2K application, as reported earlier, argues that the Seriti Commission failed miserably to conduct the most routine of investigations, arriving at the implausible conclusion that there was no evidence of corruption in the deal,” Khaas said. She said their application would ensure that those implicated in corrupt Arms Deal activities will no longer be able to claim that they were exonerated by the commission, and may even be required to face the legal consequences of their actions.
“In April, the Presidency made it clear that it would not oppose the application, and would be willing to make submissions in court. Tuesday and Wednesday provides an opportunity to highlight the ways in which the commission failed to comply with its mandate.
“These include: How the commission misled public and ignored evidence of corruption, failure to access information abroad, and to investigate serious allegations of corruption put before it and failure to investigate new allegations that have come to light,” Khaas said.
In supplementary papers filed in October, Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis reportedly argued that he believed that based on the commission’s incomplete record of its decision, it would be sufficient to review and set aside the findings.
They submitted that the documents they received revealed that the commission had hidden evidence of corruption; and that by failing to access information abroad, it made no attempt to investigate serious allegations of corruption put before it; and that the commission failed to investigate new allegations that have come to light.
They claimed that the record showed that the commission had, for example, been given documents that included correspondence between the Scorpions and the UK’s Serious Fraud Office containing evidence related to Mbeki and former Armscor director Seth Phalatse.
The UK authority told the Scorpions that it had information about an “intimate dinner” Mbeki had with Phalatse, Diliza Mji, Richard Charter and Niall Irving, who were all linked to British arms giant BAE Systems, which was accused of having paid “commissions” to South African “agents” and “consultants” linked to the ANC.
According to reports, Lewis said the allegation that Mbeki had an intimate dinner with those specific role players was “very material” to the work of the commission.
He said a “reasonable enquirer” would have wanted to have known why Mbeki was dining with these people, given the timing and his position in 1998. Mbeki was deputy president of the country as well as the head of the inter-ministerial subcommittee which oversaw the selection process of the defence procurement packages.
Lewis said Mbeki was not asked about the dinner by the commission, despite having the evidence, while Mji, Irving and Phalatse were not called to give evidence at all.
The commission of inquiry into the arms deal was appointed by then- president Jacob Zuma in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms procurement deal in 1999. Mbeki was president at the time.
After Judge Seriti made his findings which exonerated politicians in April 2016, Patricia de Lille, the original Arms Deal whistleblower, called it a “whitewash.”