Mbeki cleared of arms deal corruption

Special investigations unit the Scorpions said last week they had found no evidence of misconduct on Mbeki’s part in the arms deal, though there was information tying him to a company that was involved in the shady deals.

According to reports, while he was deputy president in 1998, Mbeki met with executives of French defence company Thomson-CSF, which is now Thales, while the company was biding for a contract to provide corvette combat suites to South Africa.

Mbeki is also alleged to have had a meeting with officials of Thales and its South African subsidiary, Thint, to discuss the corvette combat suite contract as well as the defence company’s black empowerment structure.

Thint is currently facing charges of corruption together with former deputy president Jacob Zuma in a case that is expected to go before the courts at the end of the month.

The ANC president’s links to the deal also stretched to the fact that he also then chairman of a ministerial sub-committee that was responsible for approving the acquisition of defence equipment.

Mbeki’s dealings with the French firms opened up a wave of allegations over conflict of interest, with the Scoprions being tasked to investigate Mbeki’s involvement in the deal and possible fraud.

However, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Makhosini Nkosi told local media last week that there was “no evidence of any wrongdoing by President Mbeki”.

Nkosi said the Scorpions had not investigated Mbeki in particular, but rather had launched an investigation into allegations of corruption regarding the awarding of defence contracts.

The news has come at a convenient time for Mbeki, following recent reports that German authorities in D’sseldorf are investigating allegations that more than R140 million in bribes was paid by bidders in the German Frigate Consortium to secure defence equipment to South Africa.

The allegations stem from reports that the German firm paid the large sum as an inducement to secure a contract to supply warships to the South African navy.

German news magazine Der Spiegel revealed the news of the investigation two weeks ago, a fortnight after raids were conducted on offices of two members of the German Frigate Consortium, Thyssen Rheinstaal Tecknik and Homwaldswerke-Deutsche Werft.

The report in Der Spiegel states that part of the investigation being conducted by the German authorities stems from “as yet unproven” claims that “a top South African politician had received a payment in the high millions via a Swiss bank account for his help in facilitating the deal”.

The magazine did not state the name of the politician, although the charge is understood to have been made in a letter from a South African citizen received by the German prosecutor’s office in 2001.

Since the disclosures over irregularities in the defence procurement process, pressure has mounted on Mbeki to state exactly what his role was in the process.

The president’s only defence so far has been that he “cannot remember” whether or not he met with representatives of Thales while he was still deputy president and while the bidding process was going on

The latest revelations are likely to increase mounting pressure on Mbeki over his role in the

Opposition Independent Democrats (ID) leader Patricia de Lille, recently called for a thorough investigation into Mbeki’s role in the deals.

“What needs to be established is whether there was a link between his visit and the decision to shortlist the German consortium,” De Lille said.

In 1999 De Lille told a meeting of Parliament that she was in possession of a file that implicated senior African National Congress leaders in taking bribes to influence the deal, she has however not disclosed the exact contents of the dossier.

July 2006
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