Arms deal: More concerns

2008-08-12 00:00

A WEEK ago a Sunday newspaper made startling allegations regarding bribes paid by arms deal bidder MAN Ferrostaal to President Thabo Mbeki. This weekend it has doggedly followed up with details of failed offset projects which the company undertook to set up. It has also alleged that a quintet of conveniently well-placed characters all had or have links to Ferrostaal offset projects.

MAN Ferrostaal, of course, has denied making any payments to Mbeki, Zuma or any other individuals in the ANC. It has also claimed that the offset projects which formed part of the R6 billion submarine contract have saved and created thousands of jobs in South Åfrica.

So where does the truth lie? Public alarm at the fiasco is growing. The mind boggles that a deal as big as this could have been entered into without strong monitoring. The obvious means of getting to the bottom of the thing is the appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry. This, however, is a course which Mbeki has steadfastly refused to take. More than this, the state has been extraordinarily unhelpful in providing information when asked for it. As long ago as June, for instance, the Democratic Alliance (DA) submitted two applications to the justice department in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act to gain access to the mutual legal assistance agreements between South Africa and Britain and Germany. This followed a decision by German prosecutors to drop their investigation into arms deal irregularities because of the failure of South Africa to provide them with critical information. So far nothing has been forthcoming.

Now, after the damning allegations by the Sunday Times, suing the paper for damages for libel is a course open to Mbeki. This, however, puts him in a catch-22 situation. Suing would have much the same effect as appointing a judicial commission of inquiry: he and anybody else involved could be cross examined in court and witnesses could be subpoenaed. On the other hand, not suing in response to allegations of such gravity makes him, in effect, guilty in the court of public opinion.

So Mbeki is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. What a legacy.

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