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Corruption Watch (CW) and the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) are engaged in a court challenge to the findings of the Arms Procurement Commission, also known as the Seriti Commission, into allegations of corruption in the multi-billion-rand arms deal. The commission spent four years and over a hundred million rands of taxpayers’ money, only to claim that it found no trace of corruption.

The application by CW and R2K was lodged at the Pretoria High Court in October 2016.

The reason for the challenge, the two organisations said, was that those who are corrupt have escaped accountability for far too long.

Now, the Sunday Times has revealed new allegations, brought to the court by Pretoria lawyer and arms deal consultant Ajay Sooklal and claiming that President Jacob Zuma tried to keep certain information out of sight of the commission. This includes a cash gift from French company Thales (known then as Thomson CSF), a trip to Paris in 2007 for the Rugby World Cup semifinal, and five-star hotel stays and designer clothes courtesy of the company. Papers were filed by Sooklal in the Pretoria High Court, in support of the CW / R2K application. The lawyer has stated that he will testify, should Zuma’s on-off corruption case ever come to trial.

In his affidavit, the newspaper reports, Sooklal stated that back in 2012 Zuma asked him to keep the information of how he had benefited from the arms deal away from the Seriti Commission, which was preparing to get under way.

The lawyer says Zuma told him: “My brother, I have appointed an arms deal commission to finally put to rest allegations of impropriety, bribery or corruption in the Defence Review Project. I request you not to inform the commission that the French were paying me monies over the years up to 2009.”

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Corruption Watch’s executive director David Lewis said that while Sooklal had not approached CW or R2K, his affidavit does bear out the contention that the Seriti Commission did not conduct an investigation proactively and did not properly exercise inquisitorial powers to inquire into the underlying circumstances and the mandate the commission was given.

“Little of the substance … is new. It was all made known in a Sunday Times article in 2014 and that largely relied on a submission made by Sooklal in an arbitration hearing,” Lewis told Daily Maverick. “The commission knew of the allegations contained in Sooklal’s affidavit. They sat back, however, and waited for people to present themselves. They accepted evidence sometimes utilising procedures that were dubious. They did not conduct an inquiry and that is what is drawn out for us by this affidavit. There is nothing new in the substantive evidence that is provided.”

Not the first hint of scandal

Thales has also been accused of bribing former presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj, using Shabir Shaik’s Swiss bank account as a conduit to channel money into an offshore account registered in Maharaj’s wife’s name. In 2005 Shaik was jailed for 15 years for soliciting a bribe from Thint, the local subsidiary of Thales. His appeal failed and he was incarcerated in 2007, serving just two years of the sentence.

Thales is also accused of giving a €1-million donation to the ANC in 2006.

Through its South African subsidiary Thint, the arms company won a R2.6-billion contract in 1997 to fit four new navy frigates with combat suites. The frigates would be acquired from the German Corvette Consortium consisting of Blohm + Voss, Thyssen Rheinstahl, Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werf, and Thomson CSF. The combat suite element, which made up about 40% of the cost, would be fitted in South Africa after delivery.