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Court: Seriti commission failed to test arms deal witnesses

Judge President Dunstan Mlambo handed down a stinging rebuke of his brother Judge Willie Seriti’s handling of the investigation of the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.

Businessman Schabir Shaik (C) leaves the Durban High court on 26 July 2005. Picture: AFP

PRETORIA - The High Court has found that the Seriti commission of inquiry’s approach to critical witnesses was a complete failure to test the veracity of the evidence available to it and to execute its mandate as required.

Judge President Dunstan Mlambo handed down a stinging rebuke of his brother Judge Willie Seriti’s handling of the investigation of the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.

Seriti’s report and findings have on Wednesday been reviewed and set aside.

Civil society organisations Corruption Watch and the Right2Know campaign brought an application to have the commission of inquiry into the controversial arms deal reviewed and set aside.

Mlambo said the commission accepted the evidence of implicated parties without question.

“The manner in which the evidence leader and members of the commission approached critical witnesses, particularly Mr Schabir Shaik and Advocate [Fana] Hlongwane, exhibited a complete failure to rigorously test the witness by putting questions to them with the required open and enquiring mind.”

He criticised Seriti’s approach to witnesses: “The second respondent, who was the chairperson of the commission, adopted a position that the evidence given by what we are referring to as non-critical witnesses were known facts and the evidence was given by critical witnesses such as Dr Jan were theories.”

EVIDENCE 'IGNORED' IN SOME INSTANCES

South African taxpayers have got nothing to show for the more than R130 million spent on the Seriti commission after the court found the inquiry’s chairman and evidence leaders failed to fulfil their mandate.

Mlambo set out in detail how Seriti and the commission ignored evidence in some instances or ensured it was not admissible in others and where parties were seriously implicated, the commission simply accepted their denials as fact.

“It cannot be the modus operandi of an independent commission determined to discharge its mandate to ask peripheral questions to implicated witnesses and thus failed to test the veracity of evidence in terms of documents and reports which were readily available to it.”

Now, three years after the commission’s report was released, the country is no closer to holding anyone accountable for the grand-scale corruption of the arms deal.