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Mbeki's lawyer exits Arms Deal Inquiry

Max Boqwana was also representing Mbeki’s former cabinet ministers who have been called to give evidence.

The Arms Deal Commission of Inquiry is being held at the Sammy Marks Conference Centre in Pretoria. Picture: Belinda Moses/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Former president Thabo Mbeki's lawyer Max Boqwana on Tuesday withdrew from the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the arms deal.

Boqwana was also representing Mbeki's former cabinet ministers who have been called to give evidence at the inquiry.

No objections were made by other evidence leaders to Boqwana's withdrawal.

President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand deal.

The legal team's exit coincided with the first witness, Admiral Alan Green of the South African Navy, taking the stand.

Green gave a technical overview of what was needed at the time and how resources were used, saying the force design was modest.

"The SANDF doesn't act autonomously, we only employ our forces where directed by government - that is how we base our decisions as to what the force design will express."

Earlier on Tuesday, Judge William Seriti dismissed an objection brought by anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne.

Crawford-Browne recently wrote a scathing letter to the Arms Deal Commission of Inquiry objecting to a closed session.

He said a closed session would not be transparent and cheated South Africans from knowing everything about the controversial deal.

Crawford-Browne has been outspoken about the arms deal for more than a decade and said any closed session of the commission is actually illegal as it doesn't sit well with the commission's terms of reference and keeps South Africans in the dark.

He also objected to some documents that were classified by the defence department, saying this was just a ploy to prolong the commission's work.

But Judge Seriti threw his application out, saying it was nothing new and the commission is working properly.

'SMELT A RAT'

He said he smelt a rat when the commission was advertised on Friday as being a closed session, which completely contradicts the assurances given by the Minister of Justice in October 2011 that the hearings would be an open and transparent process.

Answering a question from Talk Radio 702's John Robbie whether his campaign to have the arms deal cancelled and declared fraudulent is still realistic, Crawford-Browne responded, "Yes it is because it's a violation of the constitution in terms of the government's procurement requirements of the constitution."

Crawford-Browne said if the arms deal was deemed unconstitutional and fraudulent right from inception, the entire deal can be cancelled.

"The international remedy for fraud is you cancel your contract, return the equipment and recover the money and obviously in recovering the money, you would also recover the bribes because they would be part of the price."

Asked if trying to speed things up was harming his case, Crawford Browne responded, "On the contrary".

He said the people who were involved were the five cabinet ministers led by Mbeki, two of which are now deceased including the late Joe Modise, and Stella Sigcau.

"So the people we actually have to investigate are Thabo Mbeki, Alec Erwin and Trevor Manuel. The other people are simply commentators."

MOUNTAIN OF EVIDENCE

Crawford-Browne said there's already a mountain of evidence.

"We don't need to go through five million pages of evidence to know that the thing was rotten."

He said among the documents he has sent to the Constitutional Court are 160 pages of affidavits detailing how and why BAE paid bribes of £115 million pounds, who the bribes were paid to and to which bank accounts.

The Germans have admitted the bribes were paid. ThyssenKrupp, on behalf of the German Frigate Consortium, paid a plea bargain fine of €46 million.

Crawford-Browne claimed Ferrostaal, which managed the submarine programme, had previously admitted that offsets were simply vehicles to pay bribes.

However, Ferrostaal has strongly denied this, saying it has met all its offset obligations as part of its deal with the South African government.

Crawford-Browne said the tragedy of the issue was the lack of enthusiasm in South Africa to follow these allegations of bribes through.

He said although there is a history of burying political issues through a commission of inquiry, he hopes this time it will be different.

"The inquiry needs to be used as an opportunity of the Constitutional Court and the constitution as a means of investigating politically difficult issues. A commission of inquiry, not just here but internationally, is usually a place to park a political hot potato until its cold and can be buried."