What is this site?

This is a mini information portal on the Arms Deal and Seriti Commission. It was set up by the Right2Know Campaign in collaboration with Corruption Watch.

In October 2016, Corruption Watch and Right2Know launched a court challenge to the Seriti Commission’s findings, to ensure that the Arms Deal is not whitewashed. (Court papers below.)

Using the navigation menu above, you can download key evidence submitted to the Commission by key Arms Deal whistleblowers.

  • Was there corruption in the Deal? Here is key evidence.
  • Did the Deal violate procurement process? Here is key evidence.
  • Did the Deal make economic sense? Here is a declassified government report suggesting that government knew that the Deal would cost jobs and hurt the economy.

This evidence required serious investigation by the Commission, which failed to do so. It was up to the Commission, not the public, to test this evidence. The evidence on this site is already in the public domain, representing only a fraction of the documents that have been produced by investigations by agencies like the Scorpions, and several overseas investigations. But the Seriti Commission refused to make most of it public, or to cross-examine witnesses who defend the Deal.

To learn more about the history of the Arms Deal, visit Corruption Watch. To see why Corruption Watch and R2K are challenging the findings of the Commission, see here.

The public has a right to know – set the Arms Deal secrets free!

New Arms Deal allegations against Zuma and Thales

03 May 2017

Corruption Watch (CW) and the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) are engaged in a court challenge to the findings of the Arms Procurement Commission, also known as the Seriti Commission, into allegations of corruption in the multi-billion-rand arms deal. The commission spent four years and over a hundred million rands of taxpayers’ money, only to claim that it found no trace of corruption.
The application by CW and R2K was lodged at the Pretoria High Court in October 2016.
The reason for the challenge, the two organisations said, was that those who are corrupt have escaped accountability for far too long.

Now, the Sunday Times has revealed new allegations, brought to the court by Pretoria lawyer and arms deal consultant Ajay Sooklal and claiming that President Jacob Zuma tried to keep certain information out of sight of the commission. This includes a cash gift from French company Thales (known then as Thomson CSF), a trip to Paris in 2007 for the Rugby World Cup semifinal, and five-star hotel stays and designer clothes courtesy of the company. Papers were filed by Sooklal in the Pretoria High Court, in support of the CW / R2K application. The lawyer has stated that he will testify, should Zuma’s on-off corruption case ever come to trial.

In his affidavit, the newspaper reports, Sooklal stated that back in 2012 Zuma asked him to keep the information of how he had benefited from the arms deal away from the Seriti Commission, which was preparing to get under way.

The lawyer says Zuma told him: “My brother, I have appointed an arms deal commission to finally put to rest allegations of impropriety, bribery or corruption in the Defence Review Project. I request you not to inform the commission that the French were paying me monies over the years up to 2009.”
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Corruption Watch’s executive director David Lewis said that while Sooklal had not approached CW or R2K, his affidavit does bear out the contention that the Seriti Commission did not conduct an investigation proactively and did not properly exercise inquisitorial powers to inquire into the underlying circumstances and the mandate the commission was given.

“Little of the substance … is new. It was all made known in a Sunday Times article in 2014 and that largely relied on a submission made by Sooklal in an arbitration hearing,” Lewis told Daily Maverick. “The commission knew of the allegations contained in Sooklal’s affidavit. They sat back, however, and waited for people to present themselves. They accepted evidence sometimes utilising procedures that were dubious. They did not conduct an inquiry and that is what is drawn out for us by this affidavit. There is nothing new in the substantive evidence that is provided.”


Thales has also been accused of bribing former presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj, using Shabir Shaik’s Swiss bank account as a conduit to channel money into an offshore account registered in Maharaj’s wife’s name. In 2005 Shaik was jailed for 15 years for soliciting a bribe from Thint, the local subsidiary of Thales. His appeal failed and he was incarcerated in 2007, serving just two years of the sentence.

Thales is also accused of giving a €1-million donation to the ANC in 2006.
Through its South African subsidiary Thint, the arms company won a R2.6-billion contract in 1997 to fit four new navy frigates with combat suites. The frigates would be acquired from the German Corvette Consortium consisting of Blohm + Voss, Thyssen Rheinstahl, Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werf, and Thomson CSF. The combat suite element, which made up about 40% of the cost, would be fitted in South Africa after delivery.

CW, R2K frustrated by the state delays in the Seriti Review

28 November 2017

Corruption Watch (CW) and the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign have expressed their frustration at the state’s unacceptable delays in responding to their review application in respect of the findings of the Arms Procurement Commission, also known as the Seriti Commission.

It is almost a year since the two civil society organisations filed their application in the Gauteng High Court, asking the court to set aside the Seriti Commission findings, and it is more than six months since the reasonable expectation that the relevant documents and records would be provided. In light of the state’s failure to file all documents relevant to the findings of the commission, the organisations lodged an application to compel the provision of the documents. This application was set down for today; however on the eve of the hearing the state requested a postponement and filed a notice to oppose the application.

Both organisations consider this an attempt to drag the matter out, delaying once more justice and accountability for one of the biggest and most far-reaching scandals to have rocked this country. The outcome of today’s court hearing, subject to agreement between the parties, is for the matter to be placed under case management and that the dispute over the outstanding documents be resolved by the applicants inspecting and obtaining such documents at the state attorney’s office.
This application raises an issue of significant public importance, and CW and R2K restate their intention to move forward with the review to ensure that the arms deal is not whitewashed, and that the people of South Africa finally receive some answers about those implicated in the deal.


Corruption Watch:
Phemelo Khaas phemelok@corruptionwatch.org.za 083 763-3472

Right2Know Campaign:
Murray Hunter murray@r2k.org.za 072 672 5468

Go to www.corruptionwatch.org.za or www.armsdealfacts.com for more information on the arms deal.

Corruption Watch and Right2Know continue to challenge the findings of the Seriti Commission

21 November 2016

Last month Corruption Watch (CW) and the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) launched a legal challenge to the findings of the Seriti Commission on the arms deal. This application was lodged at the High Court in October 2016. CW and R2K note that on 9 November 2016, the Constitutional Court dismissed an unrelated application to review the Seriti Commission’s findings, brought by a third party (Mr Terry Crawford Browne).

The Constitutional Court did not make any findings on the merits of a review of the Seriti Commission but ruled that an application directly to the Constitutional Court is not in the public interest. In other words, an application must be made to the High Court in the usual manner. This is what Corruption Watch and Right2Know have done.

It is unfortunate that certain government spokespeople have suggested that this means the court has therefore cleared the Seriti Commission of any questions about its findings. This is not true. In fact, the president and his ministers of justice and constitutional development, defence, and trade and industry filed a notice to oppose this legal challenge via the State Attorney’s office on 16 November 2016.

The case brought by Corruption Watch and Right2Know continues, in a different court and with a different approach. This case is crucial to ensuring that the truth about the arms deal scandal is not whitewashed through a flawed commission, and to ensure future commissions are not compromised by similar procedural and other irregularities.

For more information about the case, please see our previous statement or visit ArmsDealFacts.com

For more information

Corruption Watch:

Patience Mkosana 072 992 8380

Right2Know Campaign:

Murray Hunter 072 672 5468

Corruption Watch and R2K challenge Seriti Commission

The following statement was made on the 17th of October 2016 when Corruption Watch and R2K launched their application to the North Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the findings of the Seriti Commission.

Today Corruption Watch (CW) and the Right2Know (R2K) Campaign have launched an application in the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division, Pretoria. The application asks the court to review and set aside the findings of the Arms Procurement Commission, also known as the Seriti Commission. This follows a relentless struggle by civil society for accountability in a scandal that was one of the most far-reaching in a democratic South Africa. The Seriti Commission’s findings cannot be allowed to stand. This review seeks to ensure that a great crime against the people of South Africa will not be whitewashed.

Challenging the arms deal cover-up is particularly relevant given the struggles today against state capture, in an environment in which investigations of irregular procurement and large-scale contracts are increasingly hampered and suppressed. Those who are implicated continue to act with impunity and in most cases remain in their positions without consequences.

The commission was tasked with investigating allegations of corruption in the 1999 arms deal, which cost the country billions of rands in exchange for weapons through processes that lacked transparency. However, after over four years, characterised by a flawed process, the commission’s final report claimed it had found no evidence of any corruption in the deal.

The founding papers show that this finding is the result of an abject failure on the part of the commission to undertake a proper investigation. The commission refused to consider thousands of pages of evidence from previous investigations, and failed to gather or admit highly incriminating evidence despite having the power to do so.

Taken together, this behaviour shows that the commission grossly failed in its mandate to fully investigate and uncover the truth about the arms deal. This deal has deeply corrupted the politics of South Africa, and sits at the heart of the country’s fight against corruption and “state capture”. The commission’s failure to provide the public with the truth undermines the country’s attempts to fight these struggles.

CW and R2K have approached the courts because for far too long the corrupt have escaped accountability. Anti-corruption activists, such as our late fearless comrade Godfrey Phiri, continue to bring these issues to light on a daily basis. This case is brought in his name and that of others who demand the right to know and refuse to be silenced.

Download the founding affidavit here.

Download the notice of motion here.


Corruption Watch: Patience Mkosana  072 992 8380

Right2Know Campaign:
Thabane Miya (R2K KwaZulu-Natal) 072 151 0320
Cleopatra Shezi (R2K Gauteng) 072 739 4122
Dale McKinley (R2K Gauteng) 072 429 4086
Murray Hunter (R2K Western Cape) 072 672 5468

 Attorneys: Sherylle Dass (Harris, Nupen, Molebatsi) 076 223 3674

Taking on global corruption: Seriti Commission challenge

This opinion piece was first published in the Business Day on 26 August 2016. It was authored by Michael Marchant from the Open Secrets Research Project.

Civil Society groups Corruption Watch and the Right2Know Campaign have announced that they will be taking the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Arms Deal (Seriti Commission) on judicial review. They insist that the South African public has been denied both truth and justice for corruption that continues to cost the country billions. The review is an attempt to challenge impunity for an event that corrupted South Africa, but by forcing us to reconsider the evidence it provides an important opportunity to look at the role of the European Arms Companies in a deal that has proven deeply damaging to our democracy.

The findings of the Seriti commission, which cleared almost all parties of any wrongdoing has found little public support. One of the cheerleaders has been former President Thabo Mbeki who continues to regard critics of the arms deal as driven by an outdated but ever present stereotypical view that African governments are inevitably, or even uniquely, corrupt. There are undoubtedly some people who are trapped in a mindset that pathologises African governments.

The discourse around corruption is painfully blind to the role of corporations, banks and powerful governments in the ‘global North’, as the Arms Deal has shown. This is about corrupt local elites and global corporations willing to pay massive bribes.  Consider the recent #LuxLeaks and #PanamaLeaks revelations, detailing a range of illicit activities that contribute to trillions of dollars flowing out of poorer countries. The response was often to defend this type of financial system, and justify the rapid externalization of wealth by pointing to public sector corruption.

Further, we do not talk enough about South African corporate collusion to raise prices, nor of the powerful companies that shift their profits offshore and cry poverty when it comes to paying wages. We simply do not pay enough attention to role of the the private sector in corrupting public officials.

Mr. Mbeki know this, and his recent reports on the extent and negative impact of illicit financial flows should be commended for prompting us to be more critical of the role of multi-national corporations, banks, central banks and western governments in the theft of wealth and resources that need to be mobilized to improve the lives of people throughout Africa.

However, what Mbeki misses is that effective investigation of corruption in the Arms Deal is a crucial part of these efforts to shed light on what corruption really looks like.

A proper investigation of the Arms Deal will expose the public officials of the time that enriched themselves through the deal. However, it would also include scrutiny of the central source of corruption in the deal; the European companies that paid billions of rand to their agents in South Africa to influence the deal. Some of these companies have admitted in foreign courts or internal documents to their role in paying bribes in South Africa and all over the world. They profited handsomely in return.

An effective investigation would also consider the role of private banks and export credit agencies in financing arms companies, arms purchases, and providing channels and accounts into which bribes are paid. The lack of due diligence done in this regard is one of the central conditions that facilitates the movement of illicit money globally. 

The arms trade is one of the most corrupt industries in the world. It exemplifies that power and secrecy are the real factors that allow for corruption, and that it is a profoundly global phenomenon.Further it is an industry that has contributed greatly to the suffering of South Africans both pre and post 1994. Global arms companies and banks violated the arms embargo to prop up an Apartheid state at the height of domestic repression and foreign wars. It was also a central source of corruption in the Apartheid government, with nearly R500 billion (in current terms) being spent through the special defence account, with almost no effective auditing or oversight. 

The Seriti commission has failed to be the first meaningful step to expose the nature of this trade, but we cannot allow that to be the last word. This judicial review is an opportunity to set the record straight.  First we need truth, thereafter we must pursue justice.

R2K on release of Seriti Commission report: ‘The whitewash we saw coming!’

This statement was released by R2K on 21 April 2016 in response to President Zuma’s release of the final Seriti Commission report.

R2K is angered by the content of the report of the Seriti Commission, presented today by President Zuma, which claims that it found no evidence of corruption and bribery in the 1999 Arms Deal. The extent of the cover-up vindicates our consistent reservations about the fairness of the process. It has long been clear that the commission was unwilling to fully pursue the truth – but we are shocked by the extent of the cover-up.

This despite a mountain of evidence which could have helped the Commission prove wrongdoing – and findings in other courts against people who benefited from the arms deal including President Zuma’s financial advisor Shabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni. The deal involves a powerful network of people that stretches all the way to the Union Buildings.

The Seriti Commission ignored extensive evidence of corruption that is in the public domain. The commission also refused to give witnesses and critics access to key information in their possession. All this was to the benefit of  European Arms companies that profited from the deal.

The conduct of the commission led two commissioners and an attorney to resign from the commission because of its ‘second agenda’.  It was for this reason that R2K and more than 40 other organisations called for the commission to be dissolved. We have consistently argued that that if the Seriti Commission inhibits the public’s right to know, it will be considered a whitewash by most South Africans.

The Arms Deal has always been shrouded in secrecy, and it contributed greatly to the corruption of our politics. The commission has similarly violated the public’s right to know by withholding information, and obscuring the truth through inadequate investigations. It has benefited the powerful in European arms companies and the politicians who benefitted from the deal. It is ordinary citizens who have paid the ultimate price for this deal. We have been robbed of money that should have contributed to social justice. We have again been robbed of an opportunity for accountability of the corrupt and powerful.

We continue to demand a full transparent criminal investigation and the prosecution of all those found of wrong doing!

We will not give up the fight for the truth about the Arms Deal!

Statement by Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren regarding the Seriti Commission Final Report

On the 21st of April 2016, President Jacob Zuma announced the release of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (the ‘Arms Deal’). During the same announcement, President Zuma provided a summary of the findings of the Commission.

The Commission found that there was nothing wrong with the Arms Deal in its conception, execution or economic impact, despite considerable evidence in the public domain to the contrary. Most importantly, it found that there was no evidence that any of the contracts in the Arms Deal were tainted by evidence of corruption, fraud or irregularity.

We are disappointed, but hardly surprised, that the Commission has come to these findings, which are tantamount to a cover-up. Indeed, it was abundantly clear during the work of the Commission that it was ill-disposed towards undertaking a full, meaningful and unbiased investigation into the Arms Deal. It routinely failed to either admit or interrogate any evidence of wrongdoing in relation to the Deal.

In August 2014, we withdrew from the Commission of Inquiry in protest at the manner in which it was conducting its investigation. Our withdrawal and subsequent refusal to testify before the Commission in October 2014 was supported by over forty civil society organisations who shared our concerns. We identified four primary problems, which we believed indicated that the Commission was failing to investigate the Arms Deal fully, meaningfully and without favour. These concerns were:

1. During the life of the Commission, a number of employees resigned in protest at the manner in which it was conducting its work. In at least two cases, the employees stated that they were resigning because the Commission did not intend to investigate the Arms Deal. Rather, the Commission was pursuing a ‘second agenda’, namely, to discredit critics of the Arms Deal and find in favour of the State and arms companies’ version of events;

2. The Commission refused to admit vital documentary evidence of wrongdoing during the public hearings. One such document was the Debevoise & Plimpton Report, an internal audit of the arms company Ferrostaal, which received contracts in the Arms Deal. The Report indicated that Ferrostaal had made tens of millions of rands in payments to politically connected politicians and procurement officials.  The report also quoted senior Ferrostaal employees as stating that the offset program was merely a conduit for bribes. In their resignation from the Commission, evidence leaders Advocates Barry Skinner and Carol Sibiya specifically pointed out that refusing to admit the Report ‘nullifies the very purposes for which the Commission was set up.’

3. The Commission refused to allow critical witnesses to testify about documents that they had not written, or events to which they were not personally witness. One major consequence of this is that the only people who could testify to corruption in the Arms Deal were those who paid or received bribes.

4. The Commission failed to provide documents to which we were entitled under the terms of our subpoena, despite repeated requests. The Commission claimed that it was refusing to do so as we were undertaking a ‘fishing expedition.’ The failure of the Commission to provide us with the documents to which we were legally entitled was typical of the Commission’s attitude of sometimes open hostility to critical witnesses.

Despite the above concerns, we are pleased that the Commission Report is now public. We look forward to interrogating its contents in full, and intend to provide a detailed response to the material therein at the earliest opportunity.

In addition, we are seeking legal advice as to the legality of the Commission’s conduct and the viability of a legal review to have the Report set aside. An announcement on this process will be made in due course.

We believe that the report represents a massive missed opportunity at arriving at the truth. However this is not the end of the road in the struggle for truth justice and accountability of corruption in the arms deal.

Arms Deal inquiry puts whistleblowers on trial

A version of this analysis piece appeared in The Star newspaper on 21 October 2014. It was authored by Anine Kriegler and Murray Hunter from the Right2Know Campaign.

The arms companies have successfully avoided scrutiny at the Seriti Commission, essentially putting the whistle-blowers and critics on trial. The absence of the arms companies from the Seriti Commission is telling.

The commission’s first phase was focused on the arms deal’s rationale – why the South African government bought what it did, the deal’s affordability and the performance of the “offsets” agreements. As such, it reasonably called on witnesses from Armscor, various government departments and several former cabinet ministers (including Thabo Mbeki).

Phase two, intended to address the allegations of fraud and corruption, is hearing mainly from critics and observers who cried foul at the time of the deal or afterwards. This includes current and former MPs and anti-corruption researchers and activists. Only three remain – former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, whose testimony started yesterday, and researchers Hennie van Vuuren and Paul Holden.

Only two members from the official (dismantled) investigations into arms deal corruption are scheduled to give testimony. And of perhaps dozens of people who have been implicated or faced allegations of impropriety in the arms deal, only two have been called to testify – former head of acquisitions, Shamin “Chippy” Shaik, and former adviser to Joe Modise, Fana Hlongwane.

Most significantly, not a single person from any of the European arms companies and shadowy “middlemen” are currently scheduled to testify. We will not hear from the alleged corrupters, those who profited from the arms deal far more handsomely than any procurement official could hope to. Their lawyers are there, certainly, ready to interject, but the companies themselves are invisible to the process – poltergeists in the room.

Instead, the commission appears to have put the arms deal’s critics and whistle-blowers “on trial”. Those who have sought to help the commission by bringing evidence of wrongdoing to its attention, have been treated as if they are the subject of the probe.

A commission of inquiry is not a trial, in which the interested parties are expected to produce all the evidence and in which the party that avers a claim must prove it. For one thing, were this principle applied, it would require a formal process of discovery, where each party is given the opportunity to access the relevant documents in the possession of the other.

Despite the important role these corruption researchers could have played in supporting the commission’s work, they appear to have been treated more as a nuisance.

One would imagine the commission would use every opportunity to tap the knowledge of those who have worked on these matters for years. Instead the commission, in response to requests for access to information from Lawyers for Human Rights, wrote that it had no interest in allowing witnesses to conduct “their own parallel investigations into the same subject matter of the commission’s mandate”.

Upon the withdrawal of Feinstein, Holden and Van Vuuren, the commission’s statement was that it was unwilling to “help them find proof for the allegations of wrongdoing”. It is not, in short, for the “critics” to provide the evidence that could prove corruption; it is only for them not to knowingly give false evidence. They are simply there to help the commission, where they can and where the commission deems fit.

Of course, all critics need to be cross-examined, so their evidence can be fairly tested. But the balance of power is simply unfair. On one side are powerful state and business interests, with the best lawyers money can buy, full and detailed knowledge of what happened (they were, after all, in the room at the time), with all the documents at their disposal, the excuse of 15 years in which to have forgotten everything and the reasonable presumption of innocence.

On the other side is a disparate and unresourced collection of independent voices, using whatever legal help they can scrounge. The commission’s rulings have hamstrung the critics, by preventing them at key moments from speaking directly to evidence of wrongdoing if it is contained in a document that they did not personally author.

At times the “critics” have been given just hours to prepare their own cross examination on the hundreds of pages of other witnesses’ statements. And for taking on this soul-sucking gauntlet in that grim, brown room, they earn nothing but the threat of criminal prosecution should they fail to satisfy the commission or criticise it in the wrong way.

More crucially, while there has been ample opportunity to examine the “critics” under the combined microscopes of the commission, the media, and the sharp-tongued Twitterati during this crucial phase of the inquiry, the same scrutiny has thus far failed to fall on those who are actually suspected of corruption.

So where are the arms companies? Britain’s BAE Systems, Sweden’s SAAB, Germany’s Submarine and Frigate Consortium, ThyssenKrupp and Ferrostaal, and France’s Thomson CSF are all absent from the witness list.

The commission should be hearing from any witness it believes may have played a significant role, may have a significant interest or may be implicated in the matters to which the inquiry relates.

It is striking that this has not yet come to include a single representative of any of the arms companies. Under South African law, both parties in a corrupt relationship (the giver and receiver) are guilty of a crime. One of them seems to have been able to keep itself invisible so far.

Of course, the commission’s failure to call on their evidence has not meant the arms companies are not in the room, making their presence felt. Their expensive legal teams and lobbyists are there every day the commission sits. They chip in where necessary, for example, to argue against the admission into evidence of a document that details how submarine co-contractor Ferrostaal paid $40 million (R441m) to gain “political access” it afterwards considered “decisive” to its successful South African bid.

So the arms companies are present enough to defend their interests and make things more difficult for those trying to help the commission with its work, but not present enough to have to answer any difficult questions.

Having been granted a year’s extension, the commission is as currently advised required by law to complete its work by the end of next month and to submit its report by six months after that.

It is running out of time to pin down the poltergeist.

Statement by Hennie van Vuuren at Arms Procurement Commission on 20 October 2014

The following statement was made by Hennie van Vuuren, one of three witnesses represented by Lawyers for Human Rights, stating that he and the other two witnesses (Andrew Feinstein and Paul Holden) decline to testify:

This Commission of Inquiry into the up to R70 billion Arms Deal – the Arms Procurement Commission – represents a historic opportunity to support the struggle for transparency and accountability in South Africa.

Your mandate, Commissioners, to establish the facts by holding the powerful to account for alleged misconduct means you carry a great burden. This mandate speaks directly to the spirit of our Constitution:  Firstly, nobody, regardless of his or her status, should be above the law. Secondly, the purpose of the law is to aid in creating a fundamentally fairer, gentler and just society. The complete opposite of the apartheid vision of a country governed by and in the interests of a network of well connected elites.

I am committed to supporting the key tenets of our Bill of Rights and our Constitution. Therefore, I believe that it is a role of civil society to assist state agencies to govern effectively. The Arms Procurement Commission is no exception. We offer such assistance with humility. We have provided the Commission with a large volume of evidence and attempted to assist it by directing its attention to documentary material that establishes the undeniable fact:  This Arms Deal was facilitated through bribery and corruption.

We have also defended the work of this Commission when others have accused it of fundamental failings. We have argued that we must give you Commissioners an opportunity to consider the evidence we and others submit to you before passing rash judgement.

However, Commissioners, I respectfully submit that we can no longer deny the following simple, well documented, facts:

1. We have been refused access to evidence
The Commission has refused to make huge amounts of evidence public. We have attempted to resolve this issue during the 18 months that we participated in the Commissions work and through in excess of 20 letters directed to the Commission. This includes millions of pages of documents from the official investigations of corruption by South African law enforcement agencies.  This material was collected at great expense and cost to the State and the South African people.  Our repeated request to access this information, which is relevant to our evidence and which we were promised in our initial subpoenas, has repeatedly been ignored.

2. We have been refused the opportunity to provide you with crucial documentary evidence
The Commission has declared some of the most crucial documents pointing to corruption to be “inadmissible” including evidence of actionable allegations of potential corruption in the Arms Deal. The Commission ruled last week that a document commissioned by an arms company reporting on its own alleged malfeasance and bribery is a privileged document having “… the same footing as a stolen document”, and is therefore inadmissible as evidence. This means the document cannot be relied on by any witness. This will block the public’s right to know.

3. We cannot speak to documents that we have not written.
The Commission has made a ruling that witnesses may only speak of documents that they have written.  The implication of this ruling is that only those who have been involved in the Arms Deal can introduce evidence. How the Commission intends to discover the truth by only hearing from participants in the Deal is a mystery.

The Chair has also ruled that witnesses should only speak to corruption allegations of which they have personal knowledge. This means that only those who have been corrupted, who have corrupted others, or who were intermediaries in such corruption, can give evidence of it. It is obvious that all of these parties have an interest in hiding the truth. Why would the Commission choose to rely solely on their opinions? I respectfully submit that this effectively means that all the research undertaken by me and my colleagues is seen as having no value to this Commission, even before we have given evidence.

4. The Commission has lost the public’s trust
There is evidence to suggest that the Commission is following a second agenda, namely, to discredit critical witnesses and find in favour of the State and arms corporations’ version of events.  Since January 2013 at least four senior staff have resigned in protest at the Commission’s conduct. In August 2014, two senior evidence leaders resigned from the Commission, saying its approach “nullifies the very purpose for which the commission was set up”. The Commission has called only two people to testify, of the dozens who have been directly implicated in impropriety. Most recently almost 40 civil society organisations have called for the Commission to be disbanded.

It is an indisputable fact that the Commission has lost the trust of the public whom it is intended to serve.

Commissioners, I am now faced with a difficult choice. How should I respond to your subpoena?

I am mindful of the fact that the arms deal has wrought havoc on the lives of ordinary South Africans and corrupted our politics for the past 15 years. It has profited international arms corporations while weakening our democratic state institutions. It has profited the rich at the expense of the poor.

I am also mindful that the cover-up that followed the arms deal has put in place a system of patronage with the purpose of keeping alleged corrupt elites out of prison. It allows them to continue benefiting from the spoils of an unequal society. I have regretfully come to the conclusion that this Commission will provide no remedy to this situation.

For these reasons, I can no longer in good conscience participate in a hearing of the Arms Procurement Commission.  To do so would be to aid a deeply unfair and flawed process. I am of the view that the Arms Procurement Commission has strayed from its mandate and has become a fundamental obstacle to the publics right to know and to justice.

Commissioners, I therefore respectfully decline to testify.

I align myself with the call from civil society for the Commission to be disbanded and replaced with a full and transparent criminal investigation.

This should lead to the prosecution of all implicated in wrongdoing in the Arms Deal.


Seriti Commission: separating fact from fantasy

This piece first appeared in the Business Day on 16 October 2014. It was authored by Hennie van Vuuren, Andrew Feinstein and Paul Holden.

The R60-R70billion Arms Deal has wrought havoc on the lives of ordinary South Africans and corrupted our politics over the past 15 years. It has profited international arms corporations while weakening our democratic state institutions. The cover-up that followed the arms deal has put in place a system of patronage with the purpose of keeping alleged corrupt elites out of prison. It allows them to continue benefitting from the spoils of an unequal society.

The success of those who defend the deal and its beneficiaries was made possible not through rational argument but by state and corporate power. Access to such power means the ability to stop official investigations and shut down the agencies that lead these such as the Scorpions. The arguments used by some of those implicated in corruption to avoid prosecution are irrational and offensive. An example is media reports over the weekend quoting correspondence between lawyers for President Zuma and the National Prosecuting Authority in which Mr Zuma is reported to argue that corruption is a ‘victimless crime’. It is a desperate defence and devoid of any fact. Corruption quickens the illegitimate accrual of power by a criminal business and political elite at the cost of lost opportunities to the poor.

Those critical of the deal and who have blown the whistle face the possibility of being cut out of job opportunities or risk physical intimidation. It also means that it has been possible to use state resources to drag these processes out for so long that the public loses track of the arguments – and may eventually conclude that we should give up and move on.

A free, democratic constitutional South Africa is fortunate that the vast majority of our people are committed to tackling graft. Despite the barriers placed in the way of uncovering malfeasance in the Arms Deal there are very many brave individuals who have questioned the corruption in the deal. They are state investigators and prosecutors whose efforts have been largely sidelined, the investigative journalists without whom we would know few of the Arms Deal secrets, and the whistleblowers who have made massive sacrifices to expose corruption in our society. Civil Society also leads this struggle as witnessed by the recent call by almost 40 civil society organisations that the Seriti Commission into the arms deal must be disbanded.

Researchers such as ourselves are the smallest part of the country’s anti-corruption activists. We believe that it is our job to act with humility in protecting the Constitution by relying on facts when challenging the corrupt. We recognise that we are part of a far larger movement calling for truth and accountability.

This past week saw the Seriti Commission of Inquiry, long the source of controversy due to its own conduct, being invited to stray from the relevant facts. The testimony of peace activist Terry Crawford-Browne was eagerly awaited. Not least because his Constitutional Court challenge led to the President establishing the Arms Procurement Commission. Sadly, what we witnessed was Crawford-Browne unwisely repeating the unsubstantiated opinions of others. The impact was not only that he undermined his own argument but also that he has made the extremely difficult task of challenging the conduct of the Commission much harder. There is no doubt that the events of the past week were watched by the arms companies and other defenders of the deal with glee.

The murder of Chris Hani, a great South African, resulted in bloodshed amongst the civilian population as the apartheid beast was in its death throes. The memory of this nightmare means we have a responsibility to discuss these events with careful consideration armed with ample evidence. There was no need to reach into these darkest corners of our history to prove corruption in the arms deal.  We respect Crawford-Browne’s past contribution to truth seeking in the arms deal cover-up, but we distance ourselves from his evidence and conclusions.  He has made it easy for those who do not want the truth to be found, to say that the critics of the arms deal rely on unsubstantiated rumour and can produce no evidence to substantiate their claims.

In the uproar resulting from these fantastical claims the crucial point must not be lost: We have demonstrated through our books, writing and the information we have provided to the Commission that there is substantial and substantive documentary evidence suggesting corruption in the arms deal. The Seriti Commission either has this information at its disposal or can access it with ease should it wish to do so.

By far the most significant event of the past week was the decision by the Commission to treat the ‘Debevoise and Plimpton Report’ commissioned by German arms company Ferrostaal (into its own massive alleged bribery) as a privileged document having “…the same footing as a stolen document”, and therefore being inadmissible in evidence. This means that the document cannot be relied on by any witness at any stage- yet another ruling which will block the public’s right to know.  To best understand the implications of this, imagine what would have happened if mining company Lonmin’s attorneys had prepared a report finding that Lonmin had engaged in misconduct during the Marikana massacre, and that report had been widely published in the media – and the Marikana Commission had then refused to admit the report into evidence.  There would have been public outrage, claiming a cover-up.

This is of course not the first, nor we fear the last, ruling of this nature by the Commission. There is a vast volume of evidence that the Commission has not sufficiently considered.

Our decision to withdraw from the Commission was not only as a result of our own experience of not being able to rely on pertinent evidence, not being able to access relevant documents in the Commission’s possession, and being limited to evidence within our personal knowledge, rendering our participation meaningless. It is also informed by resignations from within the Commission which reached a tipping point earlier this year with the departure of Advocates Sibiya and Skinner. Senior advocates who resigned from the Commission claimed that decisions are made arbitrarily including blocking evidence leaders’ access to their witnesses and documentary evidence. The Commission which some whistleblowers have charged with having a ‘second agenda’ has, in a manner uncharacteristic of a body of this kind, also launched attacks on its critics through the media. This includes statements suggesting that we are without evidence, despite the volume of information we have provided to the Commission. Most recently, the Commission’s spokesperson William Baloyi launched a vicious attack on the Right2Know Campaign in response to their expression of their right to call for the Commission to be disbanded. This unbecoming conduct further confirms our decision to withdraw from the Commission.

We re-iterate our call for an independent investigation, and, prosecution of those implicated in corruption. We make this call in the knowledge that almost 40 civil society organisations have released a statement in support of these demands. We are mindful of the fact that we do not stand alone in this struggle. We have a responsibility not to give up this fight, nor to muddy the waters with unproven conspiracy theories.