Arms deal’s top secret graveyard

2013-08-11 14:00

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Are these containers a crypt for the ANC’s secrets?

These shipping containers hold the secrets of South Africa’s R70?billion arms deal.

But those secrets will probably never be told.

When the arms deal commission of inquiry convened its first public hearings on Monday, it was doing so without having scrutinised more than 3?million pages of documents, which have been gathering dust in these containers at the Hawks’ Pretoria headquarters.

City Press can reveal that the Arms Procurement Commission, appointed by President Jacob Zuma in November 2011, has been so “overwhelmed” by the more than 4?million pages of documents provided to it by the Hawks that it has disregarded most of it.

Three independent sources with knowledge of the commission’s work have confirmed that the Hawks are storing about 4.7?million pages of documentation that have been collected in successive criminal investigations by their predecessor, the Scorpions.

The documents are housed in three shipping containers at the Hawks’ headquarters.

These revelations add to the commission’s crisis of legitimacy, caused by a series of resignations by commission members, including the most recent high-profile one by Judge Francis Legodi.

These were allegedly caused by the so-called second agenda pursued by commission chair Judge Willie Seriti.

Evidence gathered by the Scorpions over the past decade would have been central to the commission’s work.

The unit managed to secure the convictions of former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni and Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, on arms deal-related charges.

But the unit was criticised for not pursuing alleged bribes paid by other European arms giants to South African other politicians and lobbyists.

The three sources have confirmed that only about 1.3?million pages, which relate to the Scorpions’ investigation of corruption charges against Zuma and Shaik, have been digitally scanned on to a hard drive that was provided to the commission.

But these documents are yet to be declassified and indexed.

Terry Crawford-Browne, the banker whose Constitutional Court case was widely believed to have forced Zuma to appoint the commission, said it was worrying that the commission had not made any attempt to sort through the evidence.

“It simply confirms they’re wallowing in so much paper that they haven’t a clue how to tackle the issue,” he said.

Crawford-Browne said he believed “Seriti and some of his staff were simply deployed?.?.?.?to chase red herrings so there would be no finality to the issue (of the arms deal)”.

A commission team, which included Seriti, visited the Hawks’ headquarters late last year.

They were shown the shipping container that housed the Zuma-Shaik documents.

The remaining 3.4 million pages, which are contained in two separate shipping containers, were seen by the team, but largely remained unsorted and do not exist in a digital format.

A commission source told City Press Fanyana Mdumbe, the commission’s head of legal research, informed evidence leaders in February – a month before the commission was scheduled to commence its hearings – that the documents in the containers had not been scrutinised because the commission was “overwhelmed” by the size of the containers.

City Press understands that the commission has taken no further steps to examine the evidence stored in the containers.

Another source said the commission “never had any serious intention to utilise the work of the Scorpions and the Hawks, or to examine the documents”.

The “second agenda” term was first suggested by attorney Norman Moabi, who resigned from the commission in January. The term refers to an alleged secret agenda that includes the strict control of evidence flowing to the commission, which has been interpreted by some staff members as an attempt to protect Zuma, and current and former ANC leaders.

City Press asked both the commission and the Hawks to comment on Thursday, but neither body had responded to questions at the time of going to press, despite numerous follow-up calls.

What is in the containers?

City Press understands that the unseen documents relate to the investigations into BAe, Conlog, Daimler Aerospace SA and Futuristic Business Solutions.

Former defence minister Joe Modise’s erstwhile adviser, Fana Hlongwane, is implicated in a number of these probes.

The Serious Fraud Office in the UK has alleged that Hlongwane was paid R65?million by BAe and was the “main bag man” who distributed the funds.

BAe is the company that headed the consortium which was awarded the contract.

Hlongwane was on the commission’s original witness list, but his name was subsequently dropped.

City Press was told that the mysterious arms dealer’s name was “just put there to please the media”. If he was forced to testify, Hlongwane could implicate senior politicians, City Press was told.

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