South Africa will reopen the investigation into a multibillion-dollar arms deal which involves claims of bribery in the country’s largest military contract, the president’s office said Sept. 15.
Jacob Zuma has decided « to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages, generally known as the ‘arms deal,' » his office said in a statement.
The arms deal is a political hornets’ nest in South Africa, where Zuma himself had faced charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering in connection with the 1999 deal.
Charges against Zuma were dropped just before his election in 2009, after roiling South African politics for a decade.
The court verdict that dropped the charges against Zuma implied that former President Thabo Mbeki had meddled in the prosecution of the case, which led to Zuma’s dismissal as deputy president in 2005.
South Africa spent about $5 billion to modernize its military, in a deal that included the purchase of 12 trainer Hawk jets and naval patrol boats from five European groups, including BAE systems and French arms firm Thales, which was then known as Thomson-CSF.
Several high-ranking politicians and businessmen are said to have received kickbacks to help secure the contracts.
In 2005, Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for charges that included soliciting bribes to Zuma from French arms company Thomson-CSF.
Dirk Kotze, a political analyst at the University of South Africa described Zuma’s move as bold, given the possibility that the inquiry might implicate high-ranking people – even himself.
« He is sending a strong message that the government is serious about rooting out corruption. There is risk involved, » Kotze said.
« On the other hand this can also be viewed as a sign that the South African government does not want to appear as doing nothing, while the other countries involved had already indicated that they will investigate allegations of bribery in the deal, » said Kotze.
Several top politicians and businessmen are said to have received kickbacks to help secure the contracts.
Zuma’s former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was in 2005 sentenced to 15 years in prison for charges that included soliciting bribes to Zuma from Thomson-CSF.
He has since been released on medical parole.
The decision also came as a private civil case was to be brought to the Constitutional Court by an activist to force Zuma to reopen an investigation into the matter.
The opposition Democratic Alliance welcomed Zuma’s move but said the new commission’s legitimacy will depend on its mandate and its composition.
« The president must give the commission a full scope to investigate any and all aspects of the arms deal and have the powers to subpoena witnesses and documentation, » the party said in a statement. « He must appoint commissioners whose integrity and independence is beyond question, and who will conduct the enquiry with particular attention to detail. »
According to the statement, Zuma had « taken into account the various developments around this matter and also the fact that closure on this subject will be in the public interest. »
Swedish group Saab admitted in June that 24 million rand ($3.6 million) in bribes had been paid to secure the South African contract but blamed its former British partner BAE Systems for making the payoffs.