Info in German report to be used - Seriti

2014-10-07 20:47
Judge William Seriti. (Stephane de Sakutin, AFP)

Judge William Seriti. (Stephane de Sakutin, AFP)

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Pretoria - Judge Willie Seriti on Tuesday provisionally ruled that information in German arms company Ferrostaal's report relating to South Africa's arms deal will be used.

He would, however, not allow the document to be admitted into evidence, he said at the inquiry in Pretoria investigating the 1999 multi-billion-rand arms deal.

"My prima facie view is that we are not going to allow the document, but we will use the contents thereof.

"The information we had already picked from the document we continue to use. We have already tried to communicate with people mentioned in the report. We will continue doing that."

Seriti's ruling came after Ferrostaal turned down his earlier suggestion that the company waive its confidentiality privilege to the document, and let it be admitted into evidence at the public hearings.

After consultations, Ferrostaal lawyer Schalk Willem Berger told the inquiry his clients wanted the document to remain untouched.

"The onus rests on the party [Terry Crawford-Browne and the inquiry's evidence leaders] that wishes to introduce this report, to persuade the commission why the privilege will be waived. On what grounds do they allege that the privilege has to be waived?" asked Berger.

Crawford-Browne said the arms manufacturer was attempting to suppress information.

"The so-called secrecy bill remains in limbo, yet a foreign entity has already attempted to deny South Africans knowledge about how bribes were used to secure submarine contracts," he said.

"In the public interest and in terms of the Constitution, I object to this attempt to suppress information, knowledge of which is the right of all South Africans."

He said there was no provision in South African law enabling anyone to quash "a document revealing corruption in the country perpetrated by a foreign entity".

Greek tycoon Tony Georgiadis was allegedly involved bribery during the frigate acquisition.

"Mr Georgiadis's role in facilitating bribes on behalf of Ferrostaal and the German Submarine Consortium is detailed in the Debevoise and Plimpton report.

"That report states that offsets were merely a vehicle for 'Ntzliche Aufwendungen', meaning 'useful business expenses' which is a German euphemism for bribes."

He said Ferrostaal was trying to hide behind legal privilege. He threatened legal action if the report was not admitted as evidence.

The commission was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago to investigate alleged corruption in the arms procurement deal.

The government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.

Objections raised

On Monday, Crawford-Browne wanted to refer to the report, but there were objections that the document was not admissible as evidence.

The inquiry was previously criticised for not admitting into evidence a "damning report" that showed Ferrostaal allegedly paid R300m to influence senior politicians to secure the sale of submarines to SA.

The report allegedly raised concerns about Ferrostaal's relationship with Chippy Shaik, the government's head of acquisitions during the arms deal negotiations.

The report was not released by Ferrostaal, but was reported on by local and international media.

Arms deal critic Paul Holden attempted to introduce the document at the commission, but Seriti would not allow it because it had been "leaked".

In August, former evidence leaders at the inquiry, Barry Skinner and Carol Sibiya, said Seriti's refusing to have the report admitted into evidence "nullifies the very purpose for which the commission was set up".

The inquiry's evidence leader Matshego Ramagaga said it would be in public interest to admit the document.

"It is in the public interest, and it is also in the interest of this commission that this obstacle be removed and this document be admitted as evidence."

Berger said the report bore "all the hallmarks of a privileged document" as it belonged to the company.

"If there is information that only exists in that report, which can't be found elsewhere, that is privileged," he said.

Seriti said he would rule on the matter on Wednesday.

Read more on:    willie seriti  |  pretoria  |  arms deal

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