Arms Deal Inquiry judges to face misconduct investigation - Judicial Service Commission

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Willie Seriti
Willie Seriti
Bredon Croft, Gallo Images

The judges who presided over the R150 million Arms Deal Inquiry, which found no evidence of corruption in the multibillion-rand deal, are now facing an investigation for "incapacity, gross incompetence or gross misconduct".

Judicial Service Commission (JSC) secretary Sello Chiloane has confirmed that the JSC's conduct committee will hold a formal investigation into the complaint lodged against Judges Willie Seriti and Judge Hendrick Musi by non-profit organisations Open Secrets and Shadow World Investigations on 12 June.

Seriti was appointed to head the four-year inquiry into allegations of corruption and fraud in the arms-procurement deal in 1999, in which navy frigates, fighter jets, submarines and helicopters were purchased by South Africa.

His findings that, among other things, claims of corruption in the arms deal were "wild allegations with no factual basis" were later overturned by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

"Where the uncontested evidence reveals so manifest a set of errors of law, a clear failure to test evidence of key witnesses, a refusal to take account of documentary evidence which contained the most serious allegations which were relevant to its inquiry, the principal of legality dictates only one conclusion: that the findings of such a commission must be set aside," Judge President Dunstan Mlambo ruled.

Permanent stay of prosecution

Prior to that ruling, former president Jacob Zuma attempted to use the Seriti Inquiry's findings as part of his failed bid to seek a permanent stay of prosecution for the arms deal-related corruption case against him.

If there was no evidence of corruption in the arms deal, Zuma questioned, why was he being put on trial?

Now, only after the Judicial Conduct Committee has considered the detailed complaint submitted against Seriti and Musi and their responses to it, will it decide whether they should face a gross misconduct tribunal or inquiry.

In a 7 May letter to Open Secrets and Shadow World Investigations, acting Judicial Conduct Committee chairperson and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo affirmed the seriousness of the organisations' complaint that the judges failed to properly investigate the arms deal.

He states in the letter that, should the complaint be established, "it is likely to lead to a finding by the Judicial Service Commission that Judge Seriti and Judge Musi are guilty of gross misconduct as envisaged in Section 14(4) of the JSC Act."

If the judges are found guilty of such gross misconduct, they could face impeachment.

In their August 2020 complaint against the judges, Open Secrets and Shadow World Investigations also ask the conduct committee "to consider whether certain actions by Judges Seriti and Musi may constitute criminal misconduct and, if so, to refer these matters to the [National Prosecuting Authority] for further action".

In a media statement released earlier on Tuesday, Open Secrets and Shadow World Investigations confirmed that they would be make representations to the Judicial Conduct Committee on the complaint against Seriti and Musi.

"This first step towards accountability is a further vindication of civil society's efforts to expose cover-ups at the Seriti Commission - and the decision by civil society activists to withdraw as witnesses from the commission," the organisation stated.

This is a developing story.

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