Radebe stifled arms probe

2012-11-17 18:35

Justice minister blocked trip by prosecutors to Switzerland

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe blocked senior prosecutors working on the arms deal investigation from travelling to Switzerland to investigate secret bank accounts held by arms deal “playboy” Fana Hlongwane.

City Press has obtained a memorandum, signed by Radebe in July 2009, in which he rejects a request by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for two senior advocates to accompany the Hawks.

Because of the disbandment of the Scorpions, Radebe said the NPA had “no jurisdiction over this matter” and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa was now dealing with the arms deal.

The memorandum, signed by former acting NPA boss Mokotedi Mpshe, was also turned down by Advocate Menzi Simelane – then the director-general of the justice department – who said it was an “unfortunate” request.

Simelane wrote: “The NPA cannot continue as if there have not been changes.”

The two advocates, Anton Steynberg and Elize le Roux, were both part of the Scorpions’ arms deal investigations team that included detectives, analysts and prosecutors.

Radebe’s decision meant no law-enforcement agents ever visited Switzerland to inspect the approximately R100 million held by Hlongwane.

City Press understands the state’s inability to properly scrutinise Hlongwane’s role in the arms deal will be a central feature of the Seriti Commission into the R70 billion transaction.

A former adviser to late defence minister Joe Modise, Hlongwane made millions from the arms deal and has been living a luxurious, but private, life for the past decade.

He owns luxury properties in Joburg and Durban, and apparently has a fleet of sports cars at his Hyde Park mansion – the house that was once described on a blog as a “playboy mansion”.

Hlongwane has always argued that the more than R200 million he received from British arms dealer BAE was legitimate income for consultancy work.

Hlongwane became BAE’s main agent in South Africa after the death of Richard Charter, the former chair of BAE Systems SA, in an Orange River canoeing incident in 2004.

BAE was the biggest winner in the arms deal, scoring two multibillion-rand contracts worth more than R40 billion for fighter jets and training planes.

In the letter to Radebe, Asset Forfeiture Unit boss Willie Hofmeyr and his NPA colleague, Advocate Sibongile Mzinyathi, disclosed that the Swiss, “through a spontaneous disclosure”, provided the NPA with information about monies held by Hlongwane in three Swiss bank accounts.

They wrote: “According to the Swiss authorities, Fana Hlongwane is the beneficial owner of the approximately $11.4 million (R101 million) which are in these accounts.

“Hlongwane was employed as a special adviser to the then minister of defence at the time when the beneficiaries of the various arms contracts were being selected.”

They further disclosed that the British Serious Fraud Office provided the Scorpions with information showing Hlongwane’s companies received “in excess of £20 million” from BAE.

The Swiss had 16 large boxes of evidence they were willing to give to the South African investigators.

The NPA asked that Steynberg and Le Roux accompany an investigator from the Hawks, because they had been involved in the matter from inception.

“It is essential the continuity of investigations ... be maintained. This would be best served by a cooperative venture between the SA Police Service and the NPA,” they wrote.

There was “strong reason to suspect” the money held in the Swiss accounts represented “both proceeds of crime and evidence of the commission thereof”, Hofmeyr and Mzinyathi wrote.

The trip was approved by Mpshe, but turned down by the NPA’s former chief executive Khotso de Wee, Simelane and Radebe.

Asked why he had turned down the request to travel, Radebe’s spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said the investigation of corruption is the responsibility of the police, not the justice department.

Radebe declined to answer questions about his relationship with Hlongwane or whether he would testify before the Seriti Commission.

Former Scorpions briefed the commission last weekend about investigations into Hlongwane and the defence force’s former head of acquisitions Chippy Shaik.

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