Thabo Mbeki holds up Seriti commission

2014-06-15 15:00

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The only man left to testify before the Seriti Commission of Inquiry closes its first phase is former president Thabo Mbeki – but between “previous engagements” and more recently, his mother’s death, Mbeki is a hard witness to secure.

The commission, which is examining the arms deal, was meant to have wrapped up phase one this week, with the testimonies of former deputy defence minister Ronnie Kasrils, former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, former finance minister Trevor Manuel and Mbeki.

But two sources with close knowledge of the commission’s schedule have told City Press that Mbeki will only testify next month because of “previous engagements”.

Officials from the commission, the sources say, are still in discussion with Mbeki’s representatives, but a date for him to appear has yet to be confirmed.

These discussions were already taking place before Mbeki’s mother, Epainette, died last Saturday.

Mbeki is now expected to observe a formal mourning period, which could last months.

“The former president has lost his mother and the commission is fully aware of such. Discussion of the date of his appearance is ongoing and the chairperson of the commission, Judge Willie Seriti, indicated during the last sitting that an announcement will be made within three days,” said commission spokesperson William Baloyi on Friday.

Mbeki’s former Cabinet colleagues offered little new information during their testimony this week, and arms deal critics are furious.

During cross-examination of Manuel, Seriti disallowed many questions posed by the critics, particularly retired banker Terry Crawford-Browne, who was told his line of questioning was “baseless and void of any evidence”.

Arms deal activist and author Hennie van Vuuren said he, Crawford-Browne and former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein would struggle to question witnesses during the crucial second phase because they are still waiting for vital documents. Among these are contracts for some of the jets purchased as part of the arms deal and the findings of international investigations into the deal.

The second phase will tackle allegations of criminality linked to the arms deal.

Last year, City Press revealed that the commission had not processed about 4.7?million pages of documents that were stowed in three shipping containers at the Hawks’ premises in Pretoria.

The commission said at the time that it would “proceed to scan the documents and service providers are being engaged to do that”.

But not much appears to have been done.

Feinstein said the containers held significant information regarding investigations into the arms deal in the UK, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany, and said the documents should have been available during the first phase.

“Seriti says that there is no evidence [on which] to base the critical questions that are asked, but the commission doesn’t seem to have even gone through most of the evidence we have provided, let alone what is in the containers,” said Feinstein.

“How can we put crucial questions to the witnesses when we haven’t been given full access to the documents?” Van Vuuren asked.

“We gave the commission a table of all the documents we needed six weeks ago and we still have not received the documents.”

Feinstein said they were considering asking for former trade and industry minister Alec Erwin to be recalled.

“During Erwin’s testimony, we had not yet received the contracts for the Gripen and Hawk jet fighters that were purchased,” Feinstein said.

“We only received the contracts after his testimony and even that was heavily redacted.”

Baloyi said that the documents that were “relevant and related to the current phase and the testimony of identified witnesses are in the possession of the commission”.

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