Publication: Financial Mail Issued: Date: 2002-01-25 Reporter: Patrick Laurence Editor:

Defence's Finding on Chippy Shaik a Red Herring


Publication  Financial Mail
Date 2002-01-25

Patrick Laurence

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The guilty-of-misconduct finding against Shamin "Chippy" Shaik by an internal Department of Defence inquiry is seen by the chairman of Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), Gavin Woods, as a diversionary tactic.

Shamin Shaik, the suspended arms acquisition chief who played a key role in SA's controversial multibillion rand arms deal, has been found guilty of misconduct for leaking the draft Joint Investigation Report - conducted by the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the National Director of Public Prosecutions - to his lawyers.

But Woods, a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party, argues that Shamin Shaik's offence in doing so, if it is an offence at all, is a side issue.

Far more important than showing the draft report to his lawyers (not an unnatural decision, since the report questioned his integrity), are the findings of the report itself, Woods says.

In summary form, the findings are that :

There was a conflict of interest between Shamin Shaik's role as head of procurement and the business interests of his brother, Schabir Shaik, in Thompson_CSF Holdings (SA), Thompson_CSF and African Defence Systems (ADS), all of which benefited from the deal;

Shamin Shaik's defence that he recused himself from discussions when his brother's interests were involved was unconvincing, if not disingenuous;

Shamin Shaik did not "recuse himself properly" and "continued to participate in the process that led ultimately to the awarding of contracts to the said companies"; and

Shamin Shaik had neither applied for nor received the military security clearances required by law.

Seen in that context, the Department of Defence seems to have found Shamin Shaik guilty of misconduct for doing what most people would do in similar circumstances - seek the advice of their lawyers - while ignoring the more serious issue of whether he used his influence to advance the business interests of his brother.

The departmental inquiry into Shamin Shaik's misconduct is expected within days to consider what punitive action, if any, should be taken against him, Defence spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi says.

Suspicions of diversion aside, Woods believes the misconduct finding raises another issue.

Neither Scopa nor parliament were kept informed of the progress of the official investigation into the arms package, but it now emerges that it was released in draft form to one of the "most controversial" figures in the deal, Woods says.

For Scopa and parliament to have been "bypassed" in that fashion brings the report - which was eventually released simultaneously to parliament, the media and the public in mid-November last year - "into a degree of disrepute", he says.

Since the finding against Shamin Shaik was announced, his businessman brother has appeared briefly in court. Schabir Shaik's court appearance is a sequel to his arrest last year on a charge of theft, relating to his alleged illegal possession of Cabinet documents relevant to the arms deal and correspondence between the departments of Defence and Public Enterprises (whose Ministers were key players in the arms deal).

The case against Schabir Shaik has been deferred to May 27, when the trial proper is expected to start. Political observers are curious to see whether the trial will provide answers to two interconnected questions: whether the information that Schabir Shaik is purported to have been in illegal possession of was passed to him by Shamin Shaik and whether he was able to use it to his advantage in securing arms contracts.

Schabir Shaik himself has asserted that he is the victim of intrigue. He has talked of "plots within plots" and of Justice Minister Penuell Maduna setting the elite Directorate of Special Operations, alias the Scorpions, on him for undeclared and, by implication, sinister purposes.

The Auditor-General has turned down a request by C˛I˛ - which lost out to African Defence Systems in its quest to win the subcontract to provide an integrated management system for the SA Navy's new frigates - for information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. He gives three reasons for the decision: the number of documents requested is "too vast"; much of the required information was given in confidence; and the data under question impinges on SA's defence and security needs.

With acknowledgements to Patrick Laurence and Financial Mail.