Arms deal ruling: Seriti's conduct may now be called into question - analyst

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

With the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruling that the findings in the arms deal commission be set aside, it's as if the Seriti commission never existed in the first place, says Corruption Watch.

A full bench of the High Court led by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo on Wednesday found that the Seriti commission had failed in its duty to investigate the controversial arms deal.

The judgment found that the commission manifestly failed in testing the evidence of key witnesses, and refused to take account of evidence which was important to the commission's scope.

Mlambo set aside the findings of the commission and also awarded costs to the applicants, the Right2Know Campaign and Corruption Watch South Africa.

READ | Arms Deal: Seriti inquiry findings set aside

But what does the judgment mean? It means the commission never existed, says Corruption Watch attorney Tara Davis.

"It's as if the commission of inquiry never took place," Davis told News24.

"Allegedly culpable individuals who previously used the commission's findings to exonerate themselves can no longer do that, because they can no longer say the commission found there was no corruption," she added.  

Davis also said the judgment was groundbreaking and a first of its kind, which would set a precedent for future commissions of inquiry.

"It sets a precedent that courts can review a commission of inquiry, which means that all commissions are open to judicial scrutiny, which will likely prevent whitewashes in the future."

What’s next?

Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) agreed with Davis, saying that the findings no longer held any weight.

He said it would be unlikely that a new commission would be set up to probe the arms deal, but that there may be calls that the conduct of retired Judge Willie Seriti be looked into further.

"There could potentially be calls for the Zondo commission to look into the conduct of Seriti. Why did a judge go out of his way to not pursue glaring evidence of corruption," Newham said.

Newham added that, while there was nothing preventing the Hawks or the National Prosecuting Authority from investigating implicated individuals after the commission ended, the new judgment may bolster the need to continue looking into the arms deal.

Arms deal commission

The arms deal commission was set up in 2011 at the behest of former president Jacob Zuma to probe allegations of fraud and corruption in the acquisition of sophisticated military equipment to the tune of R30bn.

The contracts entered into by the South African government with several European defence companies were finalised in 1999.

READ: Seriti arms deal report can no longer be used as a defence by Zuma - former MP Andrew Feinstein

News24 previously reported that the arms deal saw government acquiring, among other things, 26 Gripen jet fighters and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer planes for the SA Air Force, as well as frigates and submarines for the SA Navy.

City Press reported that the commission took two and half years to conclude and cost around R113m.

Seriti found there was no evidence of wrongdoing and concluded that it would serve no purpose to refer allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption for further investigation.

Zuma corruption trial

Zuma, along with co-accused arms company Thales, face several charges relating to the arms deal.

Zuma is facing one count of racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud, relating to 783 payments he allegedly received in connection with the controversial arms deal.

In May this year, Zuma applied for a permanent stay of prosecution.

Judgment in that application has not yet been handed down by the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg.

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