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South African Authorities Submit Results of Corruption Probe - 2001-11-15

South African authorities have submitted to Parliament the results of their probe into a controversial arms deal. The findings exonerate the government of any wrongdoing.

The three chief investigators told Parliament there are serious conflict-of-interest issues on the part of certain government officials in connection with the multi-billion dollar arms deal. But Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka says the probe uncovered no wrongdoing on the part of the government itself.

"It is evident from the investigation that the perception of widespread corruption within the government is without justification. Whilst there may be certain individuals and department officials who used their positions to derive some form of benefit from the acquisition process, which might render them criminally liable, the integrity of our government and its institutions is unquestionable," he said.

Mr. Ngcuka says some people are still being investigated in connection with the arms deal. He refused to identify them, but he promised to take legal action against them within 24 hours.

The 450 page report singles out a senior defense official, Chippy Shaik, whose brother is linked to two companies that benefited from the deal. Authorities say he probably will not be prosecuted, but the report says Mr. Shaik should have recused himself from the arms-procurement decisions.

The report is also critical of former Defense Minister Joe Modise, although also clearing him of wrongdoing. After leaving office, Mr. Modise became involved with a company that stands to benefit from the deal.

Auditor-General Shauket Fakie urged Parliament to pass laws that would prevent real or perceived conflicts of interest.

"Parliament should consider taking urgent steps to ensure that high-ranking officials and office bearers, such as ministers and deputy ministers, are not allowed to be involved - either personally or as part of private enterprise - for a reasonable period of time after they leave public office in contracts that are concluded with the state," he said.

Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota says those recommendations will be implemented. But he also says the arms deal itself will go ahead.

The arms deal was controversial from the start. Some critics argued South Africa had no business spending so much money on weapons, especially given that it has no enemies. But the government argued the South African military infrastructure is aging and out-of-date, after decades of isolation during the apartheid era. After the deal went through, allegations surfaced of corruption in the awarding of contracts to certain companies.

The probe into the weapons deal has been no less controversial. Opposition leaders wanted an independent inquiry, not one led by the government's own investigators.

Mr. Ngcuka defended their efforts, saying they have conducted a rigorous and thorough probe. But he acknowledged the investigators were in a delicate position.

"Madame speaker, investigations by their very nature generate expectations and controversy, controversy in that an overzealous investigation might be seen as a witch hunt or a fishing expedition, whilst a superficial one might smack of a cover-up," he said.

A cover-up is what some opposition leaders are calling it. Pan-Africanist Congress lawmaker Patricia de Lille, who first blew the whistle on the possible corruption, calls the report a whitewash. She says government does not want to take responsibility for the actions of its employees. She says it makes no sense to say government is clean, while government officials are corrupt.

Other opposition leaders have been equally critical. The Democratic Party walked out of the special parliamentary session at which the report was presented, calling it a "glorified press conference." The United Democratic Movement also boycotted the meeting.

But many lawmakers and independent analysts are reserving judgement, until they have had time to wade through the hundreds of pages of evidence.

The report has been sent into various parliamentary committees for scrutiny. They are supposed to report back to Parliament as a whole by December 5.