Officers ‘will tell all in defence’

2013-10-05 00:00

IF air force officers are indicted in connection with the Gupta flight saga, they will defend themselves with evidence of how the official protocol for VIP flights has regularly been sidestepped.

This manipulation of landing requests for non-military flights has allegedly taken place on the orders of ministers and other highly placed people.

In many cases, junior officers had acquiesced in order to spare foreign visitors and the country embarrassment, or simply because ministers insisted.

According to advocate Pikkie Greeff of the SA National Defence Union (Sandu), who is representing two of the five officers under investigation, his clients will have no option but to tell what they know if they are court-martialled.

Some of these “manipulations” took place even after the Gupta flight. The Gupta landing on April 30 just caused a bigger furore because of the link to President Jacob Zuma, he said.

The SANDF investigation board probing possible contraventions by military personnel in the authorisation of the landing has been completed, as has the preliminary investigation of whether there is enough evidence to court-martial any of the five officers, or anyone else.

The director of military prosecutions has until October 29 to decide who should be prosecuted and on what charges.

Greeff said there has been no evidence of any wrongdoing by any of the three “main suspects” — Lieutenant-Colonel Christine Anderson, Lieutenant-Colonel Christo van Zyl and Warrant Officer Thabo Ntshisi of the air force command post.

“The state would have to prove that the three conspired with Bruce Koloane [the former head of state protocol], seeing as conspiracy is currently the main charge,” he said.

“In his own disciplinary hearing, Koloane said he lied about Zuma’s part in the landing request. He thus misled my clients, and if they were misled, they can’t be prosecuted,” Greeff said.

“If Koloane says he didn’t mislead my clients, he admits Zuma’s role. We can call Koloane to testify if there is a trial.

“[Presidential spokesperson] Mac Maharaj, in an interview, placed the blame on the air force officers and said no officer worth their salt would authorise a flight on the basis of a verbal instruction alone.

“The investigation board found that the officers declined to approve requests for the landing from both the Indian High Commission and Koloane without the necessary letters — letters that were misleadingly created!” said Greeff.

He said six witnesses were called this week to elaborate on their affidavits, but were not allowed to add any new material to these statements.

Among them was the head of the air force, Lieutenant-General Zakes Msimang, who handed in an official copy of the air force orders on flight requests.

The Waterkloof base commander, Brigadier-General Sam Madumane, and the head of the air force command post, Brigadier-General Les Lombard, were also called, but could not add anything to the statements they had already made.

Also called were Colonel Maritz Visser, the logistics co-ordinator at Water­kloof and Lieutenent-Colonel Daisy Mdludli, the commander of the movement control centre at the base, Anderson’s commanding officer.

“Mdluli testified that she had nothing to do with the arrangements, although she was Christine’s superior..”

The case of the two colonels in the air force foreign relations section, (Debra Khumalo and Promise Nkosi) who Greeff said lied to the investigation board, has been separated from the other three and they would be tried separately, Greeff said.

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