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Arms deal inquiry: turning up the heat

Former Scorpions investigators and several former high-profile National Prosecuting Authority bosses are to meet in Pretoria to discuss a strategy for their participation in the arms deal commission of inquiry.
The Times has reliably established that about 15 former members of the Scorpions and senior NPA officials will meet the commission's lead investigators at a Department of Justice building.

The 15 will be among 300 witnesses expected to testify at the inquiry, due to begin in February.

Among those expected to be subpoenaed to give evidence before retired judge Willie Seriti are former national directors of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and Vusi Pikoli, and former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy.

A commission insider said evidence being gathered for presentation to the commission included classified documents, correspondence between people who benefited from the multi-billion-rand deal, and confidential e-mails.

The commission will investigate the probity of the controversial R70bn arms deal.

Millions of rands in bribes are alleged to have been paid by British, Swedish and German defence companies to secure contracts. Services are alleged to have been procured at inflated prices.

The Times can today reveal that the evidence to be handed over by the former Scorpions investigators - many of whom now work for the Hawks - will determine the inquiry's way forward.

The evidence includes documents seized during raids on BAE Systems' South African offices by the Scorpions in one of their last operations.

In June last year, Swedish defence group SAAB claimed that its British partner, BAE Systems, had made R24-million in payments to businessman Fana Hlongwane to secure a contract for the supply of Gripen fighter jets, which SAAB was unaware of.

Hlongwane received a reprieve from Pikoli's successor, Menzi Simelane, in March 2010, when Simelane ordered that the freeze on Hlongwane's Swiss bank accounts be lifted.

Tomorrow's meeting takes place only weeks after commission of inquiry members concluded meetings with UK, German and Swedish law enforcement agencies.

Despite anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne's assertion that the inquiry was merely a "stalling" tactic, commission spokesman William Baloyi yesterday insisted that it would finally lay to rest the accusations that dogged the deal and tainted the country's image for more than a decade.

The commission was established by President Jacob Zuma in September last year following a protracted Constitutional Court battle with Crawford-Browne.

The inquiry is the last of three into the strategic defence acquisition programme.

The two previous investigations - dating back to 2000, including one by the parliamentary standing committee on public accounts - were stopped in their tracks by the government.

Baloyi, who would neither "deny nor confirm" the meeting, said members of the commission had met foreign investigators "who have been of great assistance".

"I cannot discuss the meetings, who was met or what information was obtained," he said.

He said an interim report was given to Zuma in July.

Baloyi said subpoenas were yet to be issued and would not identify witnesses.

Asked if Ngcuka and Pikoli had been asked to make submissions or appear before the commission, Baloyi refused to say.

Pikoli said he had not been asked to make a submission or appear before the commission.

Asked if he would be prepared to, he said it depended on what he were asked.

Ngcuka said he would not be abtthe meeting but refused to say whether he would appear before the commission.

"I do not want to pre-empt anything at this stage," he said.

BAE Systems spokesman Natasha Pheiffer said the company had made a voluntary submission to the commission.

A source close to the commission said the evidence of Pikoli, Ngcuka and McCarthy was critical to the inquiry.

"What they have to say, along with the evidence given by Scorpions investigators will finally nail the 'big fish' behind the deal," he said.

He said some subpoenas had been prepared.

"They will be for high-ranking government officials. The list of witnesses so far has some very interesting names."

The insider said witnesses might include Hlongwane, the Shaik brothers - Schabir, Mo and Chippy - and Minister in The Presidency Trevor Manuel.

Baloyi, asked about the government officials to testify, said it was possible that they would be called.

Source: The Times via I-Net Bridge


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