Maduna Nixes Heath Involvement
Pretoria - The controversy surrounding the possible involvement of Judge Willem Heath's special investigating unit in the probe into alleged corruption in South Africa's R43 billion arms deal drew nearer to finality on Monday with Justice Minister Penuell Maduna's recommendation that Heath not be involved.
President Thabo Mbeki is expected to make his pronouncement on the matter later this week, six months after Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille first accused the African National Congress of trying to exclude Heath from the probe, and just weeks after she threatened to take legal action against Mbeki if the judge was excluded.
There is widespread support for the judge's inclusion on the grounds that his unit is the only investigative body with powers wide enough to scrutinise the issue to the full extent.
The Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Alliance and the PAC are in favour of Heath Unit involvement.
Gavin Woods, chairman of Parliament's watchdog public accounts committee, which in November recommended a multi-sectoral probe into the acquisition programme, has also recommended to Mbeki that Heath be involved.
But the last few months have seen growing tensions between Heath, the ANC and government over the matter.
ANC Lashes Out at Heath
It was reported on Sunday that the judge was under surveillance, and last week the ANC lashed out at Heath, rejecting his involvement and accusing him of being "in cahoots" with opposition parties.
De Lille first alluded to corruption in the R43 million arms deal in 1999, when she told Parliament that she had information regarding ANC politicians receiving kickbacks from foreign arms consortiums. She then passed the information to Heath.
De Lille threatened legal action against the president after accusing the government of dragging its feet when Mbeki failed to issue a proclamation giving Heath the go-ahead by December last year.
De Lille said she would take court action against Mbeki unless he issued a proclamation for the Heath unit's participation. She claimed there was unanimous parliamentary support for his involvement.
The government, up to that point, had backed Heath's exclusion from the inquiry on the basis of a Constitutional Court ruling that ordered the appointment of a new head for the unit in a year's time, and stipulated that the new appointee could not be a judge.
De Lille said the Justice Ministry and the president were using the Constitutional Court ruling as an excuse as it only came into effect after a year, and that critical information regarding the allegations of corruption in the deal, which she passed on to Heath in November 1999, would not be used unless the judge was permitted to take part in the probe.
A Cape Town defence company also threatened to sue the government for more than R100 million if Heath was barred from involvement in the probe.
Richard Young, managing director of CCII Systems, said Public Protector Selby Baqwa had advised him to go to court. His company was originally identified by the SA Navy as the preferred supplier for the integrated management system for four new German corvettes, which formed part of the controversial deal.
'Proof of Irregular Practices'
Young claimed the contract was awarded to another company with links to former defence officials. Last year he told Sapa he had investigated the matter for 18 months and had incontrovertible proof of irregular acquisition practices.
Earlier this month De Lille said: "Heath's unit is the only agency that can apply for the audit and scrutinise some of the agreements in this case and how they're enforced.
"If we're not dealing with all of that, we might as well not have an investigation at all." De Lille said, adding that by ignoring the calls to include Heath, the government would open itself up to charges of a cover-up.
With acknowledgement to Sapa and News24.