Seriti takes stand on delay request
Judge Willie Seriti is presiding over the arms deal inquiry. File photo: Etienne Creux
Johannesburg - Judge Willie Seriti on Wednesday showed he would not be dictated to on how the arms deal inquiry runs, refusing to delay a key witness’s testimony until next year.
The witness is Armscor’s Frits Nortje, who will talk about frigates.
Nortje was due to start testimony on Wednesday but arms deal critic Richard Young, whose company lost out on frigate work, the Armscor lawyers and the commission’s own evidence leaders all wanted Nortje’s evidence pushed back to the second phase of hearings sometime next year *1.
Young sent the commission a series of e-mails*2, applying to cross-examine Nortje and asking for a delay in Nortje’s evidence.
He said he was supported in this by Armscor’s advocate, Richard Solomon SC, and the commission’s evidence leader, advocate Simmy Lebala SC, who will lead Nortje’s evidence.
On Wednesday, Solomon told the hearing that it would be better to delay Nortje’s testimony until the next phase of hearings.
Lebala agreed and said there were a lot of new documents - raised by Young *3 - to read.
Judge Seriti ruled that two other Armscor witnesses would start testifying on Monday, giving Lebala a bit of time to prepare on Nortje.
When they were finished, then it was back to Lebala with Nortje, said the judge.
And if Nortje spoke about the other terms of reference - like corruption - then the commission would hear that *4.
“I am trying to avoid a situation where a witness gets recalled after he has already given evidence,” said the judge.
“All those who want to cross-examine must make sure that they are ready to cross-examine the witness immediately after that witness has given evidence.”
Nortje will testify about the rationale for buying the frigates, the negotiations after the German Frigate Consortium became the preferred bidder, the rationale for buying the combat suite locally, cost savings, delays, and contract penalties.
Nortje’s evidence and cross-examination is expected to touch on sections of the inquiry - like impropriety or corruption - scheduled only for next year.
Young told the commission in his e-mails that his dog was ill*5, he was busy in a court case in Cape Town that he’d waited five years for, and that he had other business engagements pending.
Also, he wanted to cross-examine Nortje on issues due only for hearing next year.
Young said Nortje’s statement and related documents were “too thin*6” for cross-examination. “They address very little of substance and nothing on acquisition process irregularity and impropriety, let alone fraud and corruption.”
He said Nortje was not ready to be cross-examined on those matters, but he wanted to do this all in one session, thus the call for delaying the evidence.
The inquiry resumes in Pretoria on Monday.
With acknowledgement to Louise Flanagan en The Star.
Say a bit?
Over a period of a month, Young sent the commission a series of detailed e-mails plus three comprehensive formal applications and submissions.
I'm not asking for new documents.
I'm just asking for documents that I have been requesting for going a year.
Most of these documents I have, but have been so badly (and unlawfully severed) with Tippex or entire pages or sections missing, that they are unreadable and I need full and unsevered copies.
Now the Phase I witnesses can (actually must) address Impropriety, Fraud and Corruption and get cross-examined on this
'Til now they have just been poerr poerring.
This is a mind blast.
If it can actually be out into practice.
She is actually terminally ill with lymphoma and is receiving special intra-venous medication every fortnight in Cape Town interposed with oral medication. She may last another 6 days or another 6 months.
It's a personal domestic issue, but not one that it makes it easy fitting in with the quicksands of the Seriti Commission's timetable.
By way of comparison, my own draft Witness Statement (awaiting completion by the APC for me to finalise) and covering all the aspects of the APC including the JIT Investigation, comes to 79 pages of main, plus another 24 mind bending documents consisting of 140 pages as annexures.
I am not a cardboard box.