18/02/2014. Former Minister of Trade and Industry Alec Erwin during the Arms Procurement Commission in Pretoria. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Johannesburg - Former minister Alec Erwin was the first political head to appear before the arms deal inquiry – but nobody cross-examined him.

Instead his cross-examination was lost, probably permanently, in a battle over access to classified documents.

Erwin was a member of the cabinet subcommittee that oversaw the arms deal and gave the commission a 50-page statement. He testified on Monday.

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) wanted to cross-examine Erwin, but only if they could first read the relevant sections of arms deal contracts that are still classified, LHR advocate Anna-Marie de Vos SC told the commission. She said this was crucial to deciding what to cross-examine Erwin on.

Arms Procurement Commission chair Judge Willie Seriti and his colleague Judge Thekiso Musi suggested LHR could go ahead with cross-examination as there was common cause that Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) officials used multipliers although the contracts ruled this out, so the contracts were not needed.

This emerged in evidence from Erwin and DTI officials.

The multipliers gave the arms deal contractors extra credits on certain offset projects.

Advocate Marumo Moerane SC, for Erwin and the rest of the cabinet subcommittee, said any request by LHR to cross-examine later would be “strenuously resisted”.

Judge Seriti warned that it would be difficult to ask for cross-examination later.

But De Vos declined to cross-examine on Tuesday, saying the contracts were crucial and she was instructed by her clients – arms deal critics Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren – not to proceed without them.

So Erwin left.

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The Star