Arms deal inquiry judges could face misconduct investigation
Willie Seriti and Hendrick Musi led the arms deal commission of inquiry and the final report was set aside by the high court in Pretoria
The Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) will meet on June 12 to recommend whether a complaint against two judges who were appointed to the arms deal commission should be investigated and reported on by the Judicial Conduct Tribunal.
Their recommendation will be made to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who is acting chair of the committee, wrote a reply last week to two organisations — Shadow World Investigations and Open Secrets — which lodged a complaint against judges Willie Seriti and Hendrick Musi in August 2020.
The two judges were appointed by former president Jacob Zuma to act as commissioners in the commission of inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the arms deal in 1999.
The commission published its final report in April 2016 finding no evidence of wrongdoing.
The strategic defence package, popularly referred to as the arms deal, was a government military procurement programme. It involved a $4.8bn (R30bn in 1999) purchase of weaponry by the government led by Nelson Mandela in 1999.
Questions emerged about the deal within months, leading to official investigations into allegations of conflict of interest, bribery and process violations in the purchasing of equipment.
However, there have only been two convictions since. The ANC chief parliamentary whip at the time, Tony Yengeni, was found guilty of fraud after it emerged he had received a large discount on the purchase of a luxury car from one of the firms bidding for a contract. He also lied to parliament about the benefit. After various appeals he was jailed in 2006, though he only served five months of his four-year sentence.
Zuma’s financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was jailed for 15 years in 2005 for soliciting a bribe on behalf of the former president from Thint, the then local subsidiary of French arms company Thales. He was released on medical parole in 2009.
Zuma and Thales are due to appear in court on Monday to face charges of corruption, racketeering and money laundering linked to the multimillion-rand deal.
In August 2019, the high court in Pretoria set aside the final report of the commission. The high court found the commission had failed to undertake a full and meaningful investigation into matters falling within their terms of reference. The court also found the commission failed to admit, interrogate and pursue evidence related to corruption allegations.
Non profit investigative groups Shadow World Investigations and Open Secrets submitted a complaint to the JCC last year asking it to consider whether certain actions by Seriti and Musi may constitute criminal misconduct.
In their complaint, the organisations submitted that Seriti and Musi were guilty of gross misconduct.
In a letter to JCC members dated May 7, Zondo said he had considered the two organisations’ complaint against the two judges.
Zondo said he was satisfied that, in the event of the two organisations’ complaint being established, it was likely to lead to a finding by the JSC that Seriti and Musi were guilty of gross misconduct.
In terms of the Judicial Service Commission Act, he said he was obliged to refer this complaint to the JCC to “consider whether it should recommend to the JSC that the complaint should be investigated and reported on by a tribunal”.
Zondo said at this stage, in deciding to refer the complaint to the JCC, he took into account only the complainants’ version and Seriti and Musi were yet to file a response.
“The respondents are only required to furnish their responses after I have made the decision to refer the complaint to the committee and their responses will be considered by the committee at its meeting at a later stage.”
In their response, the two organisations said Zondo’s decision was a major step as it signalled the start of a process towards accountability.
“Both organisations welcome an opportunity to make representations to the committee. This first step towards accountability is a further vindication of civil society’s efforts to expose cover-ups at the Seriti commission, and the decision by civil society activists to withdraw as witnesses from the commission.”
Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.