De Lille's Remarks on Mbeki's Role in Arms Deal 'Blatant Lies'
Pretoria - The government has rejected as "blatant lies" questions raised this week about President Thabo Mbeki's role in South Africa's multi- billion rand arms deal.
The government said yesterday the claims made by Independent Democratic Party leader Patricia de Lille had no substance.
"She is regurgitating baseless allegations," the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) said in a statement.
"Her statement reflects a total misunderstanding of the course of events in the bidding process; it confuses the sequence; and it is based on blatant lies."
De Lille told the National Press Club in Pretoria on Wednesday of a "curious" about-turn in 1995 in the shortlisting of bidders for four navy corvettes and three submarines.
Germany's bid to supply these vessels inexplicably re-appeared on the list after Mbeki - then deputy president - had visited that country.
De Lille, who raised the first claims of corruption in the arms deal, said the German companies were not on the shortlist before Mbeki's German visit.
GCIS said cursory research by De Lille would have shown the Defence Review - which served as a basis for the arms procurement - had not yet been adopted by the government and parliament in 1995.
This only happened in 1997.
A request by the SA Navy in 1995 for the purchase of new corvettes was rejected by the cabinet that same year.
"In other words, as far as the government is concerned, there was no decision then to acquire any such weapons, nor was there any bidding or short list," GCIS said.
It said De Lille's allegations came four years after a joint probe by the auditor-general, the public protector and the national director of public prosecutions into the arms deal.
They found nothing untoward in the work on the deal done by the inter-ministerial committee chaired by Mbeki.
"We are astounded at the ease with which she (De Lille) elects to question the integrity of the president," GCIS said.
"We would have hoped that ... mere courtesy would have persuaded her to exercise caution and circumspection before levelling these kinds of allegations."
GCIS said the current investigations into some companies involved in the arms deal related to some secondary contracts.
There had not been any suggestion that anyone under investigation had any influence on the inter-ministerial committee which took the final decisions on this matter.
"The government has had indications ... that most of the information being peddled by the likes of Patricia de Lille originates from some of the companies which lost out in the bidding process."
This campaign was not unexpected.
"What we did not expect however are the depths to which some political leaders would sink to court publicity," GCIS said.
It also called on the media to check basic facts before giving prominence to such claims.
With acknowledgements to Sapa and the Cape Times.