After an investigation lasting two and a half years and costing R113 million, the Arms Procurement Commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, concluded “it would serve no purpose” to refer allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption for further investigation.
“The commission states that not a single iota of evidence was placed before it showing that any of the money received by any of the consultants was paid to any officials ... or any member of the Cabinet,” President Jacob Zuma said in a statement. “Nor is there any circumstantial evidence pointing to this.”
However, key witnesses from the commission – Andrew Feinstein and Paul Holden – disagree, claiming the commission deliberately ignored crucial documents, and made only token efforts to get their hands on potentially damning evidence in the hands of foreign investigators.
“It is not as though the evidence of corruption in the deal is either obtuse or difficult to access; they seem to have gone to great lengths to avoid accessing it,” said Feinstein, a former ANC MP who is now the executive director of Corruption Watch in the UK.
“In addition to which, their failure to meaningfully look at the substantial number of documents in South Africa itself is also inexplicable.”
Holden, who authored two books on the arms deal, questioned how the commission could pronounce the deal squeaky clean when, in many instances, it had not even set eyes on key documents: “They come to the conclusion that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence [of corruption] ... They cannot make a negative finding on the evidence of corruption if they have not received those documents that would show corruption.”
Included in this are three shipping containers, filled with 460 boxes and 4.7 million pages, that have been languishing in the parking lot of the Hawks’ Silverton offices.
City Press revealed the existence of the shipping containers full of potential evidence in 2013.
But at the time, the Seriti commission said that it would be too “time consuming and costly” to scan the documents. The containers are still there.
The commission’s report said they had relied on a hard drive from the Hawks containing 1.3 million documents that were deemed to be “the only information that was relevant to the commission’s investigation”.
Another potentially crucial piece of evidence, largely ignored by the commission, was the report prepared by American law firm Debevoise & Plimpton for German arms company Ferrostaal. It found that $40 million (R576 million) was paid to agents in South Africa whose primary function appears to have been to influence politicians.
Despite German authorities pointing the commission to a leaked copy of the report available online, it refused to allow the report to be interrogated because it was still covered by legal privilege and was “akin to a stolen document”.
One of the commission’s own evidence leaders, Advocate Tshepo Sibeko, argued against this, saying the report “raised a suspicion” and should be admissible. He also urged the commission to investigate evidence gathered by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office of £155 million (R3.2 billion) in alleged bribes paid into South African bank accounts.
“It is a lot of noise that they make, but if you look at what they access, it’s very little,” said Holden.
Six key people resigned from the commission, many citing difficulty in accessing key evidence.
Feinstein, Holden and fellow researcher Hennie van Vuuren withdrew from the “whitewash”.