Arms deal investigator exposed

2012-06-15 00:00

RIENA Charles, who was sacked as head of Mpumalanga’s Health Department 10 years ago because of alleged corruption, is now serving as an “investigator” on the commission investigating the multi-billion rand arms deal.

William Baloyi, spokesperson for the arms commission being chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, confirmed Charles’s appointment on inquiry. After two of the advocates nominated for the commission were earlier found to be “unsuitable” for appointment, Seriti gave the assurance yesterday that the latest appointees were people of irreproachable character.

In independent investigations by forensic auditors and the former Scorpions, Charles and Sibongile Manana, MEC for Health at the time, were implicated in gross mismanagement and tender fraud, which led to the government placing the department under curatorship. Charles was sacked and Manana redeployed.

Charles, who has a legal qualification, was later charged with getting certain tenders awarded to a family member. She was convicted, but acquitted on appeal.

The Mpumalanga government investigated various other allegations against her that have, however, not yet gone to court. She has apparently been unemployed since the case.

Seriti announced several senior appointments to the commission in Pretoria yesterday, following recent allegations that the commission had made no visible progress since its inception about eight months ago.

In addition to 10 senior advocates, advocates and an attorney, Pretty Luphondo was appointed secretary.

She was until recently a director of human resources in the Department of Justice and has no legal background. She is married to Matric Luphondo, chief prosecutor in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.

The commission moved into permanent offices in Pretoria this week, which means that work on the “significant” amount of evidence already submitted to it can proceed in earnest. Seriti said the commission would need at least three years to make proper findings.

He said the commission had the power to subpoena people and organisations to submit evidence, “regardless of his or her position and standing in the country, if we believe that person’s information to be essential”.

“We can also recommend criminal prosecution.” He would not elaborate on the Shaik brothers and whether statements would also be obtained from them, nor whether he intended taking any action against Chippy Shaik, head of procurement for the defence force at the time of the arms deal, who has been abroad in the past few years.

The commission has already sent requests for information to various companies, financial institutions and agencies, both local and international.

“We are still trying to decide how to handle situations where some of the arms suppliers have paid fines or entered into plea agreements with prosecuting authorities in other countries,” Seriti said.

The deadline for submissions to the commission is July 30, but the date can be extended if necessary.

• The most comprehensive study of South Africa’s Arms Deal The Devil is in the Detail by researchers Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren describes the deal as “a series of scandals and outrages” that emerged from the former SA Defence Force and the ANC’s security apparatus and says it still contributes “towards a dubious momentum that takes South Africa further away from transparent democratic practice”.

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