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Mbeki hush on arms deal inquiry

The former President will be among those testifying in the first phase of the inquiry.

Former President Thabo Mbeki, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, Mosiuoa Lekota and Ronnie Kasrils will be among those testifying as witnesses in the first phase of the inquiry into the controversial arms deal. Picture:EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Former President Thabo Mbeki's office has declined to comment on news that he will be called as a witness before the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the controversial arms deal.

Mbeki, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, Mosiuoa Lekota and Ronnie Kasrils will be among those testifying as witnesses in the first phase of the inquiry.

The commission into the multibillion Rand arms deal was set up by the president in 2011.

Judge Willie Seriti is heading the probe.

Mbeki's spokesperson Mokoni Ratshitanga wouldn't say anything about the former President's reaction to news that he would be called as a witness at the inquiry.

He also wouldn't say if he would be a willing participant.

Commission Spokesman William Baloyi said Mbeki won't appear before the commission before early next year.

"According to the timetable that has been issued by the commission he is scheduled to testify from 25 to 28 January 2014."

At least 12 whistle-blowers were initially called to testify in March, but the hearings were postponed because the commission was not ready.

Arms deal litigant Terry Crawford-Browne said he's pleased Mbeki has been named as a witness.

He however said he's skeptical about whether the hearings will run according to plan.

"Like the March hearings, who knows what may happen in the next six months. So adding these names with really nothing to contribute is only going to compound the problems."

The commission has also made it clear that an extension beyond the deadline of November will only be possible subject to a grant by the President.

The bulk of the witnesses are representatives from the Ministry of Defense and Department of Trade and Industry.

The inquiry has been hit by glitches since it begun.

In January, a senior investigator quit, questioning the integrity of the commission.

Norman Moabi wrote to Judge Seriti alleging that the commission was not transparent and had a "second agenda".

In May, commission secretary Mvuseni Ngubane was found dead in his car in KwaZulu-Natal. Police said it was suicide.

The commission will hold public hearings from 5 August.

'NOTHING CLASSIFIED'

Baloyi said on Tuesday that the inquiry will be open to the media.

"I think the public hearings are going to be open to the public. It will be up to the different media institutions to decide whether they will broadcast them live or only take snippets for their news. What I can tell you is that we are now busy with the process of making sure that we accredit the media institutions that will be interested."

He said the commission will also look into the allegations of bribes involving international companies.

"Those allegations have been made. It's in the public sphere. Other people have made submissions around the allegations. We are going to get deeper into that aspect."

He maintains that no information will be classified.

"Nothing is going to be hidden from the public. Not as far as we are concerned."

ARMS DEAL

The arms deal was completed in 1999 and cost South Africa up to R38 billion at the time.

It involved companies from Sweden, Britain, France, Germany and Italy and it is estimated that up to R1.1 billion in bribes was paid.