Lawyers axed for lack of loyalty to Seriti

2013-10-27 14:01

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Staff dropped for ‘not pushing second agenda’ at commission

The arms deal commission has moved to sack eight of its lawyers because, sources say, they are not considered to be loyal to Judge Willie Seriti.

Eight staffers – two senior legal researchers, an assistant legal researcher, four legal practitioners and the head of legal research – were given letters on Thursday saying their contracts would not be renewed.

The commission says in its letter, which City Press has seen, that it is doing this to save money.

But four independent sources close to the commission say the axe will ultimately fall on those who are seen as allies of former commissioner Judge Francis Legodi. He resigned allegedly because he was unhappy about secrecy surrounding the commission.

“There are a number of lawyers who were brought in by Legodi, and they have been sidelined since he resigned,” one of the sources said.

“They have not been given any work because they have no allegiance to the second agenda.”

The idea of a “second agenda”  – a whitewash in favour of politicians who allegedly benefited from the controversial arms deal procurement process – was first raised by former senior researcher Norman Moabi.

Moabi told City Press he had been waiting for this news.

“If I was still there, I would have probably got the letter too. This process has been in place for a while as certain people have been closely included in the process, yet others are kept busy with irrelevant work.

“These are the people who have been sidelined and have no role in the second agenda that has been pushed at the commission,” Moabi said.

Three other sources confirmed that this move did not surprise them. They said Seriti only wanted people on board who were loyal to the “agenda”.

One source said he was particularly concerned about shipping containers full of unanalysed documents that were being kept at the Hawks’ Pretoria headquarters.

The source said: “The commission hasn’t even looked at those containers and I don’t think they ever will, especially now that they want to fire people. We are here to assist government to get to the truth, not to push any individual’s agenda.”

In the letter, signed by the commission’s secretary Pretty Luphondo, it was stated that the commission will “enter into a process of reorganising its business through cost-cutting measures, rightsizing and streamlining its work”.

A source said: “If they want to save costs, why not cut down on the number of evidence leaders, who are earning millions? We analyse, summarise and prepare all the documents for evidence leaders to examine witnesses on.”

'Stonewalled by judge’

The art of cross-examination emerged at the arms deal commission this week.

Paul Holden, a fierce critic of the arms deal and author of the book The Devil in the Detail, became the first person to actively cross-examine a witness.

Back home in England, Holden – who has no legal training or background – said Monday’s cross-examination did not go smoothly and blamed Judge Willie Seriti.

“Initially, the plan was to meet my evidence leader (Ayob Aboobaker) about my testimony next year, but that was cancelled.

“I still needed to get a response on my request for documents to assist in preparing for my testimony,” he said.

When he heard that Robert Vermeulen, Armscor’s programme manager, was to testify, he decided to apply to cross-examine the witness. “I was only allowed access to the documents three days before I was supposed to cross-examine. He is a critical witness.”

So he spent last weekend scouring hundreds of pages of documents and transcripts. He says he was then stonewalled by Seriti.

“I had a couple of arguments with (Seriti) when I tried to introduce a document that was leaked a couple of years ago, but has been in the public domain.”

After being shut down by Seriti, Holden stuck to declassified information, highlighting discrepancies in the bid-scoring system for the three submarines acquired in the deal. Despite his ordeal, Holden says that he will be back.

» Talk to us: Do you think this is cost cutting or an attempt to further the 'second agenda'?

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