Two ‘undermined’ evidence leaders quit arms deal commission

2014-07-24 08:59

After more than two years of investigating South Africa’s controversial multi-billion rand arms procurements, another two evidence leaders employed by the commission of inquiry have called it quits.

In what may be another blow to the commission’s credibility, City Press understands that both advocates Barry Skinner (SC) and Carol Sibiya have resigned from the commission.

Skinner and Sibiya were the evidence leaders that were preparing losing arms contract bidder Richard Young’s witness statement and evidence, which was supposed to be heard on Monday.

A source with knowledge of the workings of the commission said Skinner and Sibiya appeared to have been undermined by colleagues in the commission.

Skinner and Sibiya have become the fourth and fifth lawyers to leave the commission, after last year’s resignations of commissioner Judge Frans Legodi, an evidence leader, Mokgale Moabi and legal researcher Kate Painting.

Moabi coined the term “second agenda” in his resignation letter, in which he said the commission had a “second agenda to silence the Terry Crawford-Brownes of this world”.

Commission spokesperson William Baloyi yesterday responded to a City Press request for comment by saying: “I can neither confirm nor deny the issues raised in your query. It is a matter subjected to internal processes of the commission and [it] would prefer not to express any view at this point.”

On Monday, Skinner, who would have led Young’s evidence, started proceedings by informing the commission that Young’s attorneys had written letters to the commission, saying he couldn’t appear, largely as the result of a corneal transplant, which was preventing him from preparing.

Skinner and Sibiya were forced to conduct last-minute consultations with Young as a result of the commission’s abrupt decision in mid-June that Young should be the first witness to testify in phase two of the commission, instead of the last.

Phase two of the commission deals with alleged corruption in the arms deal contracts.

“Unfortunately this need for urgent consultations coincided with [the] personal circumstances of Dr Young, in the sense that he had to undergo an operation to one of his eyes,” said Skinner.

In the letter, Young’s lawyers also point out that his evidence has not been adequately prepared by evidence leaders “due to the change of the order of the witnesses”.

Young’s attorneys also repeated a request for Young to cross-examine former Corvette programme manager Frits Nortje, and Corvette project officer Johnny Kamerman and for further documents.

He has frequently been at loggerheads with the commission over these issues.

A second, subsequent letter from Young’s attorneys, also read into the record by Skinner, notes that Advocate Fanyana Mdumbe, head of legal research at the commission, replied to Young’s letter and said the issues raised would be dealt with on Monday, July 21.

“His email is puzzling, as it appears to ignore the reasons given, on behalf of our client, explaining why he would not attend the hearing of the commission on 21 July,” reads the letter from Young’s attorneys.

After Skinner concluded reading the letters, as well as a doctor’s note from Young’s ophthalmologist, he asked that the commission hold Young’s evidence over.

Seriti then gave counsel for the department of defence an opportunity to respond before asking Mdumbe if he had anything to add.

Mdumbe embarked on a lengthy dismissal of Young’s concerns.

Mdumbe said Young was consulted for a total of six days in June this year, after being consulted in 2013.

“As far as I am aware, chairperson and Commissioner Musi, no other witness has been consulted with as extensively as the team has done with Dr Young,” he said.

Mdumbe then added that “Dr Young has participated as a witness at [the joint investigation team’s investigation] and he is not a total stranger who still has to asks information regarding specific allegations. “He has all the matters pertaining to the arms procurement.

“Chairperson, it is a simple principle of law that he who alleges must prove. However, Dr Young persistently seeks information from the commission as if he has not previously made allegations in court papers, in the print and electronic media.”

Seriti responded by saying that the commission had “tried to bend backwards to accommodate Dr Young and up to now, we have not yet succeeded in getting him to give us a statement that he is going to use in the commission if ever he is going to testify.”

Seriti did not make an order but said that the commission would sit back, look at other evidence and “from there make a decision on whether we still require Dr Young to testify on it”.

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