Arms deal witnesses announced

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Originally published at News24

Pretoria – The list of witnesses to be called by the Arms Procurement Commission was announced in Pretoria on Saturday.

They are David Maynier, Patricia de Lille, Major General Hans Meiring, Colonel Johan du Plooy, Paul Hoffman, Terry Crawford-Browne, Dr Richard Young, Gavin Woods, Andrew Woods, Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden, Raenette Taljaard, and Fana Hlongwane.

Maynier is a Democratic Alliance MP and Du Plooy and Meiring are part of the Hawks. Crawford-Browne, a retired banker, has spent years trying to get an independent inquiry into the arms deal established. Feinstein, is a former ANC MP, while Hlongwane is alleged to have been a kingpin during the arms deal.

Chairperson of the Arms Deal Commission Judge Willie Seriti announced the list.

He said letters to notify the witnesses were sent out on Friday.

‘Power to subpoena’

They would appear before the commission during public hearings to be held at the council chambers at the Sammy Marks Conference Centre in Pretoria between March 4 and May 31.

“We do have the power to subpoena,” Seriti said.

“A failure to comply with that subpoena might surmount to criminal offense.”

He said a person who was subpoenaed was compelled to appear before the commission. However there was a clause which meant evidence could not be used in criminal prosecution.

In October 2011 President Jacob Zuma announced that Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Seriti would chair the three-man commission of inquiry, flanked by judges Willem van der Merwe and Francis Legodi.

The deal, which was initially estimated to cost R43 million, has dogged South Africa’s politics since it was signed in 1999, after then Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille raised allegations of corruption in Parliament.

Zuma himself was once charged with corruption after his financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who had a tender to supply part of the requirements, was found to have facilitated a bribe for him from a French arms company.

The charges against Zuma were later dropped.

Public submissions

Seriti also announced on Saturday the committee has almost completed the second phase of its work.

During this phase it issued requests for information to various government institutions and departments including the directorate of priority crime investigation, the national prosecuting authority, parliament, and cabinet.

He said requests were also made to financial institutions. Calls were also made for public submissions. These should have been submitted by July 30.

“The call for public submissions was disappointingly poor,” Seriti said. The commission only received seven.

“By contrast almost all government entities have thus far co-operated with the commission and have provided us with the documentation and information we requested.”

Process ongoing

Letters of request for information, evidence and/or meetings were sent to entities in Germany, Liechtenstein, Sweden and Britain, Seriti said.

“They all graciously agreed to meet with the representatives of the commission and those meetings were held in June and August 2012 and were extremely helpful.”

He said the process was ongoing.

“Currently, approximately 4.5 million pages of documentation have been lodged with and analysed by the commission.”

He said the information gathered in the second phase put the commission in a much better position to commence with the public hearings.

“We understood from the beginning that the public hearings would be a high point mark of the commission’s work and needed to be able to plan for them,” Seriti said.

These hearings would be conducted in phases.

In the first phase the commission would deal with the allegations of irregularities and wrongdoing that have been made in the public space for years, he said.

The witnesses called have been selected to testify on aspects of these matters.

A losing bidder

“Most are people who have played prominent roles in exposing the allegations and/or have campaigned to compel the government to institute a commission to inquire into the allegations.”

He said the list also included a losing bidder for one of the arms procurement sub-contracts and a person whose name features in most allegations as a possible beneficiary of the arms procurement process.

“At the conclusion of the first phase of the public hearings the commission will adjourn in order to analyse and assess the evidence thus far and make provisional factual findings thereof to be incorporated in our next interim report.”

Commissioner Judge Thekiso Musi concluded by saying: “The programme we have outlined here is not cast in stone”.