Arms Deal back in play as court sets aside Seriti findings of ‘no evidence of wrongdoing’

By Nkululeko Ncana

(Bloomberg) – A South African court set aside the findings of an official investigation into the government’s R46.7bn ($3.1bn) arms deal in the late 1990s, which had found no evidence of corruption or wrongdoing by politicians or government officials.

The Commission of Inquiry, headed by Justice Willie Seriti, failed to inquire fully into the matters it had to investigate, North Gauteng High Court Judge President Dunstan Mlambo said in Pretoria Wednesday.

The unanimous ruling is a blow for former President Jacob Zuma, who is seeking a permanent stay of prosecution on corruption and racketeering charges for allegedly receiving bribes from arms company Thomson CSF (now Thales Group) through his financial adviser, Shabir Shaik. Shaik was convicted in 2005 of trying to solicit a bribe for Zuma and served 28 months of a 15-year jail term for graft before being paroled on medical grounds.

In the judge’s words:
“Where the uncontested evidence reveals so manifest a set of errors of law, a clear failure to test evidence of key witnesses, a refusal to take account of documentary evidence which contained the most serious allegations which were relevant to its inquiry, the principal of legality dictates only one conclusion — that the findings of such a commission must be set aside”

Civil rights groups Corruption Watch and Right2Know had asked the court to set aside the commission’s findings, arguing that it failed to properly consider the evidence before it.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in February last year, has yet to say whether he will constitute a new inquiry.