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South African Politician Steps Down - 2001-10-04

A leader of South Africa's ruling party has resigned from his party post after his arrest on corruption charges.

Tony Yengeni stepped down as chief whip in parliament for the ruling African National Congress. He says he will keep his seat in parliament, however.

Mr. Yengeni told reporters he is innocent. He says he resigned his post so he can spend more time preparing his defense against charges of corruption, fraud and perjury.

Charging documents say Mr. Yengeni bought a luxury Mercedes Benz 4x4 vehicle for about half-price from a company linked to a controversial $5 billion arms deal. Mr. Yengeni was chief of the parliamentary defense committee at the time.

Government officials deny that his acquisition of the car affected the outcome of the weapons deal, which is the subject of a separate corruption probe.

Authorities have also issued an arrest warrant for Michael Woerfel, an official with a company involved in the arms deal, who allegedly was involved with the car sale. He is currently out of the country, but is expected to return next week.

The European Aeronautical Defense Space Company received sub-contracts under the controversial arms procurement. It has admitted providing cars to more than 30 influential people, in government and private industry, including the chief of the South African military.

Mr. Yengeni says he made the decision to resign on his own. He denied reports that the ANC leadership asked him to quit. Analysts say his arrest was a major embarrassment for the ruling party, and other senior ANC leaders probably put intense pressure on him to step down.

The party is expected to name a new chief whip Monday.

Meanwhile, police say they have also questioned former defense minister Joe Modise over his ties to companies involved in the arms deal.