Zuma 'will be held to arms inquiry'

2011-10-27 22:12

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma has been warned that the courts will be used to hold him to the eventual recommendations of the Seriti commission of inquiry into the arms deal.

"If he irrationally refuses to implement sensible recommendations of the commission, we will be back in court," lawyer Paul Hoffman, who has been acting for arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne, said on Thursday.

Hoffman was speaking after the terms of reference of the commission were announced.

Hoffman acted for Crawford-Browne in his Constitutional Court bid to force Zuma to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption in the arms contracts.

Zuma pre-empted the outcome of the case by appointing the commission that will be chaired by Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Willie Seriti, and must submit its final report in 30 months.

Hoffman said the commission was essentially a "policy instrument" intended to advise the President on a fraught issue that has dogged the government since the late 1990s.

"So if a wishy-washy report is produced that says 'maybe there was, maybe there wasn't' then the President will be entitled to say: 'Well, I can't take it any further.'

"If, however, strong recommendations come that say that it is very clear that these deals are tainted... then it will be very difficult for the President not to act on that."

Subpoena witnesses

Justice Minister Jeff Rabebe announced on Thursday that the commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses, revisit past investigations and recommend criminal prosecutions.

Hoffman said he believed this meant that Zuma, who fought charges linked until early 2009, would be called to testify before it.

"I think he will be a witness and I think he will have to answer the questions that are asked of him."

Others risking being called to testify, include those who served on the arms procurement committee and potentially the treasurer general of the ANC to answer allegations that the ruling party benefited from the deal, he said.

But Hoffman said it may be too late in the day to institute criminal charges against those suspected of improperly influencing the deals or taking kick-backs, even if the commission recommended it.

"I'm not sure that going down the criminal route is even going to work at this stage, so many years have gone by."

Cancel deals

He said the best action may be to cancel deals and demand the return of as much as R70bn from arms suppliers.

"It is perfectly feasible in law and in fact. This commission is now looking at the civil law and the criminal law ramifications of the deal."

The commission has the power to recommend deals be annulled and losses suffered by the state recovered.

The terms of reference of the commission met with approval, including from the Democratic Alliance.

But Crawford-Browne said he was still considering whether to drop his court case, which was set down for hearing on November 17.

He said this would depend on Zuma's reaction to his criticism of the fact that he appointed three sitting judges, instead of retired judges, to the commission.