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Probe arms deal, UN apartheid sanctions and state capture - People's Tribunal

Feb 10 2018 11:00
Lameez Omarjee, Tehillah Niselow

Cape Town – After a five-day sitting the People’s Tribunal has recommended that economic crimes such as the arms deal of 1999, non-compliance with United Nations (UN) sanctions during apartheid and state capture be investigated.

The tribunal was organised by civil society groups including the Centre For Applied Legal Studies, Corruption Watch, Foundation for Human Rights, Open Secrets, Public Affairs Research Instituter and the Right2Know Campaign.

Hearings on economic crimes were held this week before a panel, which included retired Justice Zak Yakoob, retired Judge Navanethem Pillay, Mandisa Dyantyi of the Social Justice Coalition, Bahamian Barrister Allyson Maynard-Gibson QC and Dinga Sikwebu, co-director of programmes at Tshisimani centre for activist education.

The panel heard evidence from experts, writers, researchers, civil society and other witnesses, on the violations of UN sanctions during 1977 and 1994, the 1999 arms deal and allegations of state capture involving Denel.

In a report on the preliminary findings the tribunal recommended South African state institutions and various European states investigate “serious instances” of economic crime.

“Evidence collected by the tribunal will in due course be handed over to the relevant state authorities to assist future investigations,” the report read.

There is a “three-month window” for implicated parties to respond to the evidence presented to the panel, after which it will decide when to release the final report.

The tribunal highlighted that the UN sanctions and resolutions were made to fight apartheid, especially after it was declared a crime against humanity.

The trade sanctions were voluntary at first, but later became binding. “Compliance was then essential and non-compliance was a crime,” the report read.

Private players and foreign governments which did not abide by the sanctions had helped the apartheid state, the tribunal found.  “We also have no doubt that some foreign governments were duplicitous - publicly posturing an anti-apartheid stance and secretly supporting it,” the tribunal said.

The tribunal recommended that the conduct of the French government and the Kredietbank, based in the Netherlands, during the campaign be investigated. “They co-operated with the apartheid system, ensuring the unlawful flow of arms and ammunition and facilitating payment through a labyrinth of devious structures and routes. All this was secret.

“This conduct was in our view at least as dangerous and harmful as the conduct of the apartheid regime in terms of killings, torture, forced removals, wrongful imprisonment and the like.”

Arms deal lined politicians' pockets

The tribunal also took issue with the stated purpose of the 1999 arms deal concluded by the post-apartheid government. The reasons stated were that the arms were necessary for South Africa’s security and would benefit the poor of the country.

“South Africa, in all probability, did not need the military equipment it purchased as a result of the 1999 arms deal,” the tribunal said.

“This fact leads to the irresistible inference that these purchases were made in order to facilitate money making for corrupt people, including politicians. This, in our view, was the real purpose of the decision.”

The tribunal added that there is enough evidence to raise “strong suspicion” that cabinet ministers and others in state made personal gains.

“It is a matter of regret that these matters have not been subject to rigorous investigation. And it is our view that this should happen as soon as possible.”

The tribunal noted that the findings of the Seriti commission that there was nothing wrong with the deal were still under judicial review, and would not go into more detail on the matter pending the outcomes.

State capture

The tribunal also heard evidence that state arms manufacturer Denel and other state-owned enterprises had not performed their functions “solely for public benefit”. There had been “manipulation” which benefited private players, the tribunal said.

“We do not find it surprising in the light of our understanding of the political context that the Gupta family together with certain political and administrative office bearers would have been the beneficiaries of this manipulation that has come to be known as ‘state capture’.” 

The tribunal noted that the state capture is as a result of acts of corruption that preceded it, such as violations of the UN sanctions and the arms deal. 

Without the violation of United Nations sanctions, and the corrupt arms deal, the state capture described in the evidence would probably not have occurred, the tribunal said. 

The interim report and summaries of the evidence presented will be served to the South African government, including the Presidency, the National Director of Public Prosecution, the National Police Commissioner, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Safety and Security and those implicated.


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