Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2002-01-11 Reporter: Paul Kirk Editor:

Naval Officer Shielded by Arms Report Changes

Publication  Mail & Guardian
Date 2002-01-11

Paul Kirk

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The joint investigation team report into the controversial arms deal was changed during the drafting process, shielding a senior naval officer from a called-for sleaze investigation.

Investigators involved in the drafting of the report, released in final form to Parliament late last year, told the Mail & Guardian that Rear-Admiral Johnny Kamerman had admitted that he or his family received gifts from companies that are part of the German Frigate and German Submarine consortia. These investigators said that reference to this was removed from the report.

Kamerman this week denied he made the admission.

Both consortia were successful in their bids to supply corvette naval patrol vessels and submarines as part of the R66-billion arms package.

Kamerman holds a crucial position in the navy's corvette acquisition programme - he is project officer - and is project director for both the corvette and submarine acquisition programmes.

Auditor General Shauket Fakie has repeatedly claimed that the arms report drafts were not materially altered after being shown to the President's Office and members of Cabinet before the final version was released. In this instance, however, damaging information was already edited out at an earlier stage - on the face of it by the public protector's office, who alongside the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the auditor general composed the joint investigating team.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the investigators who participated in over 18 hours of interviews with Kamerman, and who contributed to the original drafts of the report, told the M&G that Kamerman made certain admissions about gifts - small luxury goods - from companies that are part of the German consortia.

The investigator's notes following on the interview read in part: "This matter needs to be investigated further. Regardless of the value of these gifts, it must be established if their acceptance constitutes any departure from Ministry of Defence guidelines - or any other guidelines. Furthermore it must be established if other gifts were offered to other parties."

The investigator told the M&G that "nearly, if not absolutely, identical" wording went into the earlier drafts of the arms report in a section dealing with the corvette acquisition programme - and was mentioned again in a chapter of recommendations.

Concern over the "gifts" - even though the value was not clear and the gifts were allegedly made after the consortia were selected - was sufficient for the matter to be recorded in the original draft report on the arms deal. However, it is not to be found in the final report submitted to Parliament.

The investigator said that, after the draft went to the public protector's office, the references to gifts were missing. The investigator's claims have been corroborated by another investigator who said that these gifts were the subject of discussions within the joint investigation team.

Kamerman, contacted in Germany this week, where he is overseeing construction of the vessels, denied having been given any gift or other consideration by any arms company. He refused to discuss whether his family or others had received gifts, repeatedly saying he had instructions not to speak to the media and that "you will have to go elsewhere for answers, I am afraid". His frankness in his dealings with investigators is placed in doubt by the final arms report. The observation appears in a section dealing with C2I2 managing director Richard Young's complaint that a company associated with Shabir Shaik, brother of arms acquisition chief Chippy Shaik, won a subcontract on the corvettes irregularly and at C2I2's expense.

The final report says: "Kamerman's sworn evidence provided during the forensic investigation (during an 18 hour consultation) differs in this regard [on the evaluation of the product] materially from his testimony provided during the [public protector's] phase of the investigation."

While this section is critical of Kamerman, the M&G has learnt that that original drafts were much tougher on him - they bluntly accused him of perjury and recommended he be charged.

Although the final report contains a number of instances in which the admiral first said one thing to investigators under oath and then told the public hearings on the arms deal another version of events, no mention is made of the word "perjury" in the final report.

The M&G has been told, by a well-placed source inside the auditor general's office, that at least until the third draft there were recommendations that Kamerman and another senior naval officer be charged with perjury - a criminal offence carrying a possible jail sentence.

These references were, according to this source, removed by public protector staff. The advocate who supervised the writing - and rewriting - of the recommendations was advocate Stoffel Fourie, a senior investigator.

Contacted for comment, Fourie said: "I have no idea where you got that information. At the beginning of the investigation it was decided that all media queries would be handled by the auditor general's office. I suggest you contact them. I am not confirming or denying anything."

The references to perjury might have been removed as criminal charges were under consideration. The report, in general, left out allegations still the subject of criminal investigation.

Peet Grundling, representative for the auditor general's office, was on holiday and could not be reached for comment. Fakie was in meetings and his staff indicated he would not be available at the time of going to press. On November 20 last year Young wrote to the auditor general's office and requested that, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, he be given copies of all draft reports of the investigation.

Approached this week for comment Young said cryptically: "I know that the drafts were altered. I do not suspect it, I know it."

Young declined to comment further but said it was obvious he wanted them with a view to legal proceedings over his exclusion from the arms deal.

Staff at the auditor general's office confirmed the request had been received and that it was being "processed and considered".

With acknowledgement to Paul Kirk and The Mail and Guardian.