Why Mbeki withdrew from the arms commission
NKULULEKO NCANA FORMER president Thabo Mbeki has refused to be represented by a state attorney at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry.
Mbeki has insisted on being funded by the state to appoint his own legal team that would represent him when he appears as a witness.
Sunday World understands that Mbeki’s legal team believes the evidence leaders appointed to the commission were disingenuous during their meetings with him. It is said that: Commission evidence leaders alleged that they struggled to find Mbeki to interview him even though his whereabouts was known to them.
At one of the meetings with Mbeki, the evidence leaders relied on the contents of Andrew Feinstein ’ s books into the arms deal to quiz him.
An agreement with the evidence leaders to send written questions to Mbeki for his responses ahead of his appearance in January next year was reneged on.
Arms deal commission spokesman William Baloyi would not be drawn into providing details of the meetings between evidence leaders and Mbeki.
“Unfortunately we cannot disclose our interaction with witnesses as this forms part of our internal operations,” Baloyi said.
Sunday World understands that Mbeki believes his request to the government was above board and necessary in the event that there was an adverse finding by the commission that could lead to possible court action.
President Jacob Zuma instituted the commission of inquiry – headed by Judge Willie Seriti – into allegations of corruption in the multibillion-rand arms deal.
Zuma’s decision came a decade after details of corrupt dealings during the R70-billion arms procurement process emerged.
Max Boqwana, the attorney representing Mbeki and other former cabinet ministers, withdrew from the commission on Tuesday after it emerged that the government would not foot his legal fees. But Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe retaliated a few days later, saying it was untrue that the state had refused to provide legal assistance to Mbeki.
“The withdrawal of the firm Boqwana Burns has created an impression that the government has refused to fund the former president’s legal representation in the commission. This is indeed not true. The former president is being offered legal representation which will be provided through the state attorney, duly supported by expert resources, as deemed necessary by the state attorney,” Radebe said.
But insiders close to the process told Sunday World that Mbeki made a formal request for legal assistance on July 31 and did not receive a response until the commission started.
Mbeki was subpoenaed by the commission as a witness with former ministers Ronnie Kasrils, Mosiuoa Lekota, Alec Erwin and Trevor Manuel.
“His attorney was told that the government would provide state attorneys to assist the former president, but this was declined,” one insider said.
Another said Mbeki wanted to employ the services of at least two senior counsel and attorneys.
“The argument that was made is that the attorneys appointed by Mr Mbeki would sit through the proceedings from start to finish so that they could have their finger on the pulse as far as the testimony that is given by other witnesses [is concerned],” said the insider.
Mbeki is also said to be angry at the conduct of the commission’s evidence leaders before it started last week.
Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga declined to comment.