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Woods confronted over arms graft claims

2014-09-02 19:56

Pretoria - Former Scopa chairperson Gavin Woods does not have evidence implicating politicians in corruption in the arms procurement deal, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry heard on Tuesday.

"So you don't have any direct evidence, but you're saying the facts presented suggest this?" commission chairperson Willie Seriti asked Woods.

"You are drawing inferences?"

"That is correct, sir," responded Woods.

"These are my deductions and I am hoping you will see it in the same way."

Woods, who was an Inkatha Freedom Party MP, resigned as chairperson of the watchdog Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in 2002.

At the time he said it was due to interference in Scopa's work by Cabinet ministers, former ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni, former National Assembly Speaker Frene Ginwala, and then deputy president Jacob Zuma.

He claimed Scopa was prevented from ensuring the public's concerns with the arms deal were investigated.

Woods spent the entire day delivering his evidence-in-chief.

A substantial amount of his 38-page statement referred to articles by the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Sunday Argus, Business Day, Sapa, and Politicsweb.

Seriti, who has opposed the use of newspaper articles as evidence, allowed Woods to go ahead, but warned him to not make unsubstantiated allegations based on what he read.

Woods told the commission it should be cautious about simply dismissing newspaper reports as many of published claims were proven to be true.

Cross-examination

Marumo Moerane for former president Thabo Mbeki, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, and other politicians, began cross-examining Woods after 16:00.

Moerane asked Woods whether he had evidence of corruption against his clients.

"I'm not saying that [they were involved in corruption]. In fact, I defended Mbeki," said Woods, adding that self-enrichment was not in the former president's manner.

Earlier, Woods told the commission the late former defence minister Johannes "Joe" Modise was the only member of Cabinet who he knew of who benefited from the arms deal.

Modise, who died in 2001, was defence minister when South Africa bought billions of rands of military hardware in 1999.

Woods testified it was hard to believe the deal was different to that of many other countries and free of corruption. He said government had been adamant there was no corruption in the multi-billion rand deal.

"I question how they could have been so sure," Woods said.

The government "displayed anxiety" when discussions of a probe surfaced. He claimed this contradicted its confident stance.

"They went to extraordinary lengths to sabotage the investigations." President Jacob Zuma established the commission in 2011 to probe allegations of corruption in the arms deal.

Government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.

Woods was expected back at the commission on Wednesday where he would face cross-examination from the other lawyers involved in the inquiry.

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