Judge Willie Seriti during the Arms Procurement Commission hearing at Sammy Marks Square, Pretoria. File picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - The arms deal inquiry’s chief evidence leader has unexpectedly left the commission.

His departure again raises speculation of disputes within the commission, particularly with chair Judge Willie Seriti.

Advocate Tayob Aboobaker SC was one of the 10 advocates and attorneys hired in June 2012 to lead the evidence of the witnesses called to the public hearings in Pretoria.

On Friday morning Aboobaker, understood to be home in Durban, declined to comment.

The commission had not commented by the time of publication.

Aboobaker’s departure was unexpected and is bound to disrupt the hearings; it’s believed he left because of clashes with Judge Seriti.

There were originally three judges when the commission was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in November 2011.

In August, days before the commission’s delayed public hearings finally started, Judge Francis Legodi resigned.

There were rumours of disagreements between the judges over the running of the commission and hearings, but neither Judge Legodi nor the commission would comment.

When the hearings got under way, Aboobaker was the team leader for the evidence leaders, making the opening statement which underlined the need for transparency.

“The commission has come under extensive criticism from the media and members of the public, that is as it should be, the weight of public pressure has assisted in defining the work of the commission and reinforcing its resolve to ensure total transparency and accountability in its workings and that the public has confidence in the final report produced by it,” he said at the time.

“The challenges we have are many, the time available limited, the way forward not entirely clear. This is because the public nature and transparency of the process is absolutely critical to its success. Under scrutiny is the conduct of the executive responsible for the Strategic Defence Procurement Package. It is that very executive and its functionaries that have the documents vital for a proper understanding of this process.

“Voluminous documents have been received from the various state departments but the vast majority are classified, we record our appreciation to the state departments for making these documents available.

“What is important is that these documents should be available insofar as it is possible for public scrutiny.

“What may have been regarded as confidential and classified many years ago may not deserve that label today. It is only the most sensitive of documents which impact upon the relationship between nations and documents which affect the security of the state that can justify non-disclosure.”

However, since then the commission has often been secretive about documentation despite many documents being rushed through last-minute declassification procedures.

The Star’s requests for witness statements and accompanying bundles are frequently ignored or only partly fulfilled.

The hearings have been repeatedly postponed and witness lists rescheduled, with the commission running way behind schedule.

This week’s hearings were again disrupted, with power failures writing off on Thursday’s plans and another delayed start on Friday morning.

The Star