Arms Probe Could Take Years
Pretoria - The preliminary forensic probe into irregularities pertaining to a R30 billion weapons contract between South Africa and Germany, England and Sweden will probably be concluded within the next six months. A criminal investigation could take another two to three years.
The probe to be conducted by a team of 12, generally thought to be largest of its kind in South Africa, is the result of two meetings held last week. The probe into irregularities in concluding contracts for corvettes and aircraft for the South African National Defence Force includes the Heath Commission of Inquiry, the Office of the Auditor-General, the Public Protector, the National Prosecution Authority and the Investigating Directorate for Serious Economic Offences.
Parliamentary standing committee for public accounts chairperson and the initial facilitator of the probe, Gavin Woods, on Monday said no time scale had been set for the probe’s conclusion. However, it was expected that the government's share in the transactions would be a priority, since the mandates of several of the investigating units expire as soon as the probe moves to the involvement of private companies.
The Directorate for Serious Economic Offences will proceed with this part of the probe, particularly if Interpol assists in procuring documents from foreign countries. The main focus of the investigation will reportedly be directed at the procurement programme for corvettes from Germany, the Hawk training fighter planes from England and the Gripen fighter aircraft from Sweden.
The survival of the main contracts are not expected to be in contention, but irregularities in awarding subcontracts could result in the cancellation of some of these. A preliminary list of possible suspects has been compiled as a base for the probe but no arrests are likely over the next six months.
There was a possibility of special units such as the Scorpions becoming involved in the probe if necessary. Woods added that a draft cost account for the probe will be submitted this week by the investigating team, ahead of the decision on who would be responsible for the cost.
Although certain international donors could be considered, the responsibility to settle the account rests with the department being probed - in this case the Defence Ministry.
Should the Department of Defence have insufficient funds for the probe, they could approach Finance Minister Trevor Manuel for an extension to the defence budget. It is estimated the probe will run into several millions of rands.
With acknowledgement to Erika Gibson and News24.