PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki's cynical manipulation of a legal opinion by Western Cape director of public prosecutions Frank Kahn and Heath special investigating unit lawyer Jan Lubbe on the arms inquiry is cause almost for despair.
On national television, Mbeki contrived to suggest that Kahn and Lubbe supported government's position by quoting them as saying there was no prima facie evidence of criminality in the arms deal. He even thanked the two men for their work. What he failed to mention was that their opinion unequivocally supports the idea of an investigation and describes the Heath unit's involvement as "imperative".
Government seems to have solicited the opinion in the hope that it would buttress a decision it had already made. When this did not happen, the advisers were asked a second time whether there was a prima facie case, and Mbeki used their response misleadingly to imply that the Heath unit was not called for. As any lawyer would know, prima facie evidence is not a prerequisite for an investigation, but what an investigation would seek to uncover.
Mbeki will no doubt argue that he did not actively misrepresent Kahn and Lubbe. But the issue is not so much what he said as what he did not say, and the false impression this conveyed. If anything is to be salvaged from his extraordinary handling of the arms inquiry, he should follow Kahn and Lubbe's recommendation that the unit, or another unit of the same kind, be drawn into the investigation.
With acknowledgement to Business Day.