Arms deal: The three witnesses who withdrew

2016-04-22 09:46
The Seriti Commission investigated allegations of corruption in the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal. (AFP)

The Seriti Commission investigated allegations of corruption in the controversial multi-billion rand arms deal. (AFP)

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Johannesburg - Two years ago three key witnesses who were set to give evidence in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal, pulled out of the Seriti Commission of Inquiry.

Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden, and Hennie van Vuuren felt the commission had strayed from its mandate.

They said they were not surprised after President Jacob Zuma on Thursday announced that the commission had found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

"We are disappointed, but hardly surprised, that the commission has come to these findings, which are tantamount to a cover-up,” they said in a statement.

"Indeed, it was abundantly clear during the work of the commission that it was ill-disposed towards undertaking a full, meaningful, and unbiased investigation into the arms deal.”

The commission had failed to either admit or interrogate any evidence of wrongdoing.

All evidence was made available on the website Arms Deal Facts.

Who are they?

Andrew Feinstein - Former ANC MP and whistleblower 

Feinstein resigned as an ANC MP in 2001 in protest at government’s refusal to investigate the multi-billion rand arms deal. He was the head of the party’s group on the public accounts committee.

He was seen to be instrumental in getting Parliament to call for an investigation into the deal, but lost his position because of this.

He authored the book ‘After the Party: a personal and Political Journey Inside the ANC’ and ‘The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade’.

In reply to e-mailed questions, Feinstein said he did not regret pulling out of the inquiry. He said Judge Willie Seriti had not read key documents providing evidence of corruption.

"We realised it was a farce,” he said.

Paul Holden - author and researcher 

Holden wrote two books on the arms deal ‘The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything’ and ‘The Arms Deal in Your Pocket’.

He had been calling for an investigation into the arms deal for years and called it the "biggest post-apartheid scandal”.

"By the time we pulled out, it was abundantly clear that the commission was not attempting to properly investigate the arms deal - that would not have changed if we testified. 

"In pulling out we made the commission's manifest failings clear to the South African public."

The Commission had made it clear in its rulings with earlier witnesses, such as DA MP David Maynier, that it would not admit certain documents. 

"That, in turn, spoke to the general attitude of the commission, which, it appears, was not particularly interested in undertaking a full and fair investigation” Holden said.

Hennie van Vuuren - author and researcher 

Van Vuuren co-authored the book ‘The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything’.

He told News24 that had he, Holden, and Feinstein testified under different conditions, the commission would have had a different outcome.

He said the evidence available was not something the three were exclusively privy to. Many documents had been leaked, even by some of the arms companies involved. These companies had themselves found evidence of wrongdoing.

“What was clear was that we could in no way present evidence we were not the author of, so what you are then saying is that you need the arms companies or politicians who are implicated in corruption to come along, or one of their middlemen, to present evidence that implicates them.

“That’s never going to happen in a thousand years."

Fight not over

The commission’s report affirmed their decision to pull out.

“It’s one of the most astounding findings given the weight of the evidence that exists and that somehow the commission just decided to close one eye and not look at,” he said.

All three said they were getting advice on whether they could legally challenge the commission’s report and its conduct.

“The powerful who benefit from these types of deals wish this matter to end right here, right now and I think we need to signal to them that the fight is far from over,” said Van Vuuren.

“It’s imperative to do so not only because we need to uphold the rule of law in the country and our Constitution, but also many ordinary people have suffered as a result of abuse of power, corruption and these types of deals which have robbed many people of opportunities.”

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  arms deal

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