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The North Gauteng High Court has ruled to set aside the findings of the Seriti Commission of Inquiry investigating alleged corruption in the acquisition of arms by the South African government in 1999.

The judgment follows an application by non-profit organisations Corruption Watch (CW) and Right2Know (R2K) to have the 2016 findings of the commission declared null and void and set aside for review. The two NPOs argued that the findings of the commission misled the public and exonerated politicians and public servants of any wrongdoing relating to the arms deal.

The commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, sat for four years and in its findings, it stated that it could not find any trace of corruption in the arms deal, declaring it to have been completely above board.

On the latest judgment, Judge President Dunstan Mlambo was critical towards Seriti for failing to hold those who were responsible for the arms deal responsible. He labelled the process one of “manifest failure”. 

In the court application, CW and R2K objected to the fact that the commission refused to consider thousands of pages of evidence from previous investigations, and failed to gather or admit highly incriminating evidence while it had the power to do so.  The NPOs said the commission failed its mandate to fully uncover the truth and fully investigate the arms deal.

Judge Mlambo, in his judgment, fully concurred with the above assertions, “The commission failed to inquire fully into the matters it had to investigate. The questions posed to the witnesses were hardly the questions of an evidence leader seeking to determine the truth,” he said. 

Mlambo also criticised the line of questioning towards businessman Fana Hlongwane claiming he was treated generously and allowed to ramble on while on the witness stand. Mlambo added that Hlongwane’s statement requires further investigation, particularly the R60-million allegedly paid to him.

British Aerospace System allegedly paid the amount to Hlongwane for securing the contract for the purchase of fighter jets.

“Key failure to test evidence of important witnesses and refusal to take account of documentary evidence which contained the most serious allegations that were important to the inquiry, means the findings of the Seriti commission must be set aside,” said Judge Mlambo.