Witness warned over refusal to testify in arms deal

2014-10-20 18:51
(File: AFP)

(File: AFP)

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Pretoria - Legal action will be taken against arms deal critic Hennie van Vuuren for refusing to testify, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry said on Monday.

Chairperson of the inquiry, Judge Willie Seriti, told Geoff Budlender, SC, representing Van Vuuren, that the course of action would be decided on.

"The law is there. It will have to take its course. We will decide in due course on the sort of action we are going to take," said Seriti at the inquiry in Pretoria.

"We are going to try and put into motion processes of the law to deal with your client's refusal, despite having been properly subpoenaed to testify before this commission."

Budlender had presented Van Vuuren's lengthy statement to the inquiry, accusing it of straying from its mandate.

"We have been refused access to evidence. The commission has refused to make huge amounts of evidence public. We have attempted to resolve this issue during the 18 months that we participated in the commission's work," wrote Van Vuuren.

The evidence included millions of pages from documents of official investigations of corruption by government agencies into the arms deal.

"This material was collected at great expense and cost to the State and the South African people. Our repeated requests to access this information, which we were promised, have been ignored," he said.

Van Vuuren said the inquiry had also refused an opportunity to provide critical documentary evidence alleging corruption. He said Seriti had declared some documents pointing to graft as inadmissible as evidence.

"The commission has lost the public's trust. There is evidence to suggest that the commission is following a second agenda, namely to discredit critical witnesses and find in favour of the State and arms corporations' version of events," he said.

"I am mindful of the fact that the arms deal has brought havoc [to] the lives of ordinary South Africans and corrupted our politics for the past 15 years. It has profited the rich at the expense of the poor."

‘Cover up’

He said the "cover-up" that followed the 1999 arms deal had put in place a system of patronage for the purpose "of keeping alleged corrupt elites out of prison".

"I have regretfully come to the conclusion that this commission will provide no remedy to the situation. I can no longer, in good conscience, participate in the hearings of the arms procurement commission," said Van Vuuren.

"To do so would be to aid what I see as a deeply unfair and flawed process.

"I am of the view that the arms procurement commission has strayed from its mandate and become a fundamental obstacle to the public's right to know and to justice."

Van Vuuren called for the commission to immediately be disbanded and replaced with "full and transparent criminal investigation which leads to prosecution of all implicated in arms deal wrongdoing".

Marumo Moerane for former president Thabo Mbeki, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, and other politicians, said Van Vuuren was being disingenuous.

"Mr Van Vuuren has been at it for at least the past three years. When the opportunity presents itself for him to present that evidence [of corruption] he runs away," said Moerane.

"Mr Van Vuuren purports to be representing the public, but the persons who can genuinely be held to be representing the public, that is president Nelson Mandela and president Thabo Mbeki, decided to give evidence before respective commissions.

"In the scheme of things, who is Mr Van Vuuren compared to those gentlemen?"

He said Van Vuuren must give evidence to the inquiry "and not hide behind a fig leaf".

The commission, chaired by Seriti, was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago to investigate alleged corruption in the country's multi-billion-rand arms procurement deal in 1999.

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.

Read more on:    willie seriti  |  jacob zuma  |  pretoria  |  arms deal

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