Independent defence analyst , Helmoed-Romer Heitman says it is unlikely that the commission will uncover much. Heitman says those implicated in corruption would have taken measures by now to get rid of the evidence.
“It’s been so long that if anybody is half way clever they would have buried the evidence so deep that nobody is ever gonna dig it out. I think in that sense the commission is really on a sticky wicket. They’ll probably find nothing and that will either mean there was nothing or that it’s well hidden but whatever the case may be people will then accuse it of being just another cover-up,” says Heitman.
The Commission of Inquiry into the multi-billion rand arms deal begins with public hearings in Pretoria on Monday. The Arms Procurement Commission was set up by President Jacob Zuma in 2011. This followed calls from opposition parties to probe allegations of fraud and corruption in the weapons purchases of the 1990s.
Former President Thabo Mbeki, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and former Ministers Mosiuoa Lekota, Ronnie Kasrils and Alec Erwin are scheduled to appear. The commission’s been hit by the resignation of one of its members, Judge Francis Legodi, and other officials. Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille is regarded as the initial whistleblower on the deal.
Swedish defence group Saab admitted that its erstwhile British partner BAE Systems had paid R24 million in the form of “bonuses and salaries” between 2003 and 2005 for the deal involving 26 JAS Gripen fighters.
The comments came after Sweden’s TV4 television channel said it had evidence Saab had promised to pay Fana Hlongwane, then advisor to the South African defence minister and also serving as a consultant to the Swedish firm, millions of euros in bonuses if Pretoria did not back out of the Gripen deal.
BAE Systems sold its stake in Saab for £152-million.
In 1999, deals were signed to buy 40 Italian Agusta helicopters; frigates and submarines from Germany; and from Britain, 52 Hawk trainer aircraft and Anglo-Swedish Gripen fighters. The British deal, strenuously promoted by the British prime minister Tony Blair and backed by the UK export credit agency, ECGD, was worth an impressive £1.6bn. It eventually emerged that BAE’s Hawks were twice the price of an Italian rival but the deal had been forced through regardless of cost by the South African defence minister Joe Modise.
Most of the bribe money went through BAE’s Red Diamond front company. BAE claimed to the UK government that the payments had no links to politicians, but this was false.
Fana Hlongwane, an adviser to the late defence minister Joe Modise, was a beneficiary. Hlongwane is also linked to Mbeki, some sources say. Another was the business partner of a notorious Berkshire-based arms dealer whose UK premises were raided. It was alleged that payments went to the ANC 1999 election campaign, via bank accounts in Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Mauritius
ANC official, Tony Yengeni, was jailed for taking a Mercedes from arms company EADS. Schabir Shaikh, brother of a senior arms procurement official, has been jailed for fifteen years for involvement in bribery.
Mbeki accused the British prime minister of double standards in singling out Africa over corruption, and insisted that no corruption had taken place in the deal he originally brokered.
Corrupt arms deals by BAE have now been alleged all round the world, virtually everywhere the company does business.
For more than 40 years the UK government has secretly tolerated, and sometimes actually practised, bribery. It has deliberately colluded with companies such as BAE and allowed them to continue corrupt practices. In 1965, during an economic crisis, Denis Healey launched an official arms sales department in Whitehall. Its remit was to pay bribes.
Healey himself was frank when he was interviewed recently by the Guardian: “Bribery has always played a role in the sale of weapons – I think almost no role in the sale we made to the Americans or the Germans or our western allies. But in the Middle East people couldn’t buy weapons unless you bribed them to do so, and that was particularly true in Saudi Arabia.”