Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2001-03-09 Reporter: Sapa Editor:

More Ado Over Arms Deal


Publication  News24
Date 2001-03-09


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Cape Town - As the arms deal became further mired in controversy on Thursday, the chairman of Parliament's watchdog public accounts committee (Scopa) accused four Cabinet ministers of deliberately trying to downplay the need for an investigation.

Meanwhile, the African National Congress moved to further isolate its independent former study group chair on public accounts, Andrew Feinstein, by dropping him from Scopa's working group drafting a second interim report on the deal.

In a hard-hitting submission to the working group on Thursday, Scopa chair Dr Gavin Woods (IFP) questioned the motives of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, Public Enterprises Minister Jeff Radebe and Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin.

In January the four publicly criticised a committee resolution calling for a multi-agency probe into the deal, accusing committee members of being irresponsible, incompetent and not understanding how arms deals worked.

The four appeared before the committee last month to substantiate their views.

'Ministers failed to make case stick'

Woods in his submission says: "In view of the minister's failure to make their manufactured motive and substance of their case stick, it can only be concluded that their real purpose was to diminish the need for a forensic investigation."

The ministers had failed in their attempt to discredit the committee's resolution adopted by the National Assembly in November last year.

"Not even the intimidatory tone and highly contrived arguments are sufficient to have Scopa retract its views and sweep these under the carpet.

"It is a victory for a report that expressed sound concerns and possibilities and raises questions, and which refrains from making any allegations of dishonesty."

As such it is a victory for the role of parliamentary oversight and the public interest.

It was unlikely that any previous National Assembly report had been as critically examined and publicly vilified.

Authorship of Zuma letter questioned

Woods also rejected a stinging letter from Deputy President Jacob Zuma and questioned whether he was its true author.

Zuma accused the committee of seriously misdirecting itself, and arriving at decisions on the arms deal that were not substantiated by facts.

Woods in his submission says: "The levels of belittling sarcasm and false accusation, in relation to the work of the Parliament, is surely unprecedented by a deputy head of state."

Meanwhile, Business Day newspaper, quoting sources close to the arms deal investigation, said several politicians including ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni were being investigated for alleged irregularities.

The arms deal has been plagued by allegations of corruption ever since Pan Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille - in Parliament in 1999 -called for an investigation into claims that senior ANC politicians had taken kickbacks.

Business Day named Water Affairs Minister Ronnie Kasrils, former defence minister Joe Modise and the chairman of Parliament's joint committee on defence Ntsiki Mashimbye, as among those under investigation.

Threat to sue Noseweek for defamation

Mashimbye said he was not aware he was under investigation, while Modise has previously threatened to sue for defamation after Noseweek magazine implicated him in corruption.

Modise's lawyers are trying to get an apology and retraction from Noseweek which last year published that Modise, now a businessman, received an "interest-free" loan of R40 million from a friend in Germany soon after he retired as defence minister on June 16, 1999.

Noseweek alleged Modise used it to buy shares in Conlog, "a company with extensive interests in the overall armaments package".

The Financial Mail reported this week that Modise, who signed a draft agreement with a German consortium to supply three submarines three days before stepping down as minister, is now the chairman of Conlog and a black empowerment company, Labat.

Modise has dismissed the allegations against him as "lies and gossip".

Kasrils in his reaction told Sapa: "I am totally unaware of any such interest by any investigators. No-one has approached me with regard to the arms procurement deal.

"I categorically deny any involvement in any irregularity or corruption of any kind.

"In the event of any such inquiry into my alleged involvement I would welcome and assist any inquiry to the fullest, to put an end to any suspicion or allegation as soon as possible."

He said his bank account could be checked any time.

'Politicians given vehicles, cash' ? unnamed sources.

Business Day, quoting unnamed sources close to the investigation, said the allegations being probed included that companies gave other politicians vehicles and cash, and that a Durban clothing company was used a conduit for funds from outside South Africa.

In another case, money paid by a South African firm is alleged to have first gone to a Mozambican front company before being used to renovate a Pretoria house.

However, the sources stressed the claims were unverified.

Meanwhile the AM Moola Group, a Durban clothing company alleged to be the secret conduit of funds, on Thursday also denied any involvement.

The group's chairman, Sadek Vahed, told the Daily News there was not truth in claims that Modise had money transferred from Mozambique to his bank account via the AM Moola account. - Sapa

With acknowledgements to Sapa and News24.