Arms deal probe goes on in UK

Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

The United Kingdom's serious fraud office is continuing to investigate the arms deal between South Africa and British Aerospace .

This was confirmed yesterday by SFO head of external communications David Jones.

He said "the investigation was active" and SFO's investigators "are pursuing the trail of evidence".

This contradicts claims by the SA government that the investigation had either been cancelled or that the status of the investigation was not clear.

The government made these claims at a media briefing last week at which it tried to downplay new allegations made by the Sunday Times newspaper about arms deal corruption.

BAE sold South Africa Hawk fighter trainer aircraft and Gripen fighter planes in 1999. It was reported at the time that a similar deal - at allegedly half the price - could have been entered into with Italian arms manufacturer AeroMacchi, but that it had been turned down by the South African government.

Economist Terry CrawfordBrowne, an opponent of the arms deal and author of Eye on the Money, says that only 11 of the 24 Hawks, and none of the Gripens, have been delivered. He contends that the deal should have been cancelled.

An investigation was subsequently launched to find out whether kickbacks had been paid to South African politicians to support the far more costly BAE deal instead of the AeroMacchi one.

At a media briefing last week Justice and Constitutional Development director-general Menzie Simelane at first said "the serious fraud office had terminated the investigation". He then made an about-turn and told the media he was unsure whether the SFO was "still pursuing" their request for cooperation.

The SFO said it was "surprising" for the South African authorities to think the investigation had been cancelled.

Simelane yesterday maintained that he did not know whether the SFO was investigating or not.

He told Sowetan: "We understand that they (SFO) have terminated their investigation into BAE Systems. What we have asked for clarity on is whether this covers the South African investigation or only Saudi Arabia."

The SFO investigation into an alleged R15million bribe paid by BAE to a Saudi prince was terminated last year. This investigation was allegedly separate from the investigation into the SA deal.