Mbeki, Manuel 'doctored arms deal report'

Cape Town – The spotlight is once again on the arms deal scandal after possibly damning evidence – which could sink the careers of highly-placed politicians – was presented to members of Parliament.

Members of the Standing Committee On Public Accounts (Scopa) received a bulky presentation, which implies that former president Thabo Mbeki as well as Trevor Manuel and Mosiuoa Lekota covered up damning findings about the arms deal.

The presentation of more than 600 pages was handed in earlier this year by Cape Town businessman Richard Young, whose company, CCII Systems, lost the tender for the navy's new corvettes. According to him, these documents were not available in 2000 when the joint investigative team looked at the arms deal.

This team, consisting of the auditor general, the public defender and the national director of public prosecution, found in a November 2001 report handed in to Parliament that there were no grounds to believe that government had acted "illegally or improperly".

Report doctored

But the documents provided by Young, apparently showed their initial report had been doctored considerably.

According to a provisional analysis by the DA, the report is full of amendments, comments and changes. Hand-written notes (by an unknown author) can be seen throughout, while the names of Mbeki, Manuel and Lekota are also written in the margins.

Of the biggest adjustments are:

- The finding that there had been "considerable gaps" in the appointment of BAE and SAAB as preferred contractors for the acquisition of fighter planes was completely left out. Instead, a paragraph was inserted to say that there was no proof of government "irregularities, fraud or corruption".

- A section was completely cut out pertaining to the ways in which Joe Modise, the deceased former minister of defence, had influenced the BAE/SAAB tender. Even the title of the section was changed to: "The visionary approach of the minister of defence".

- The auditor general's complete finding about the process around the BAE/SAAB tender was turned around. Instead of a finding about ministerial intervention and prejudice, it claimed the process was above reproach and that there were "no grounds" for suspicion.

Goverment pressure

It would also appear as if the compilers of the final version were under pressure from government.

A hand-written note implied Mbeki, Manuel (the former minister of finance and now minister of planning) and Lekota (former minister of defence and now president of Cope) had given feedback to the author about certain issues in the report before the compilation of the final version.

According to the DA, it looked as if Manuel had given instructions that the report should make it clear that government had worked with the joint investigative team.

Mbeki for his part clearly requested that the "integrity of the investigative bodies" should be protected. All of this apparently happened at a meeting in October 2001.

Mark Steele, a DA MP and member of Scopa, said in reaction: "If these revelations are true, it is shocking. We have to get to the bottom of this."

New evidence

Themba Godi, MP of the African People's Convention and Scopa's chairperson, said on Wednesday night that committee members would decide within the next three weeks if the involved parties should appear before the committee.

According to Godi, a new commission of inquiry into the R30bn arms deal could only follow if Young's presentation presented "new and meaningful evidence" that corruption had indeed taken place.

"And with 'new evidence' I mean that it (the alleged amendments to the final report) shouldn't merely be changes to the style of writing or grammar."

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